Living Well in Wabash County
The core competency of Living Well in Wabash County, is providing opportunities for older adults to use their time, talents, experience and knowledge to meet the needs of the residents of Wabash County, including those of older adults and their families.
Innovation and Adaptation
At first blush, Living Well in Wabash County (LWWC) sounds more like a tourism slogan on a highway billboard than the name of a senior care organization. Yet, despite it’s catchy phrasing, the name is not a simple platitude describing how life is going in Wabash. Rather, it’s an organizational vision for a county: a community where any stage of life can be lived well.
LWWC started in 1974 as the Wabash County Council on Aging, one of whom’s earliest programs was distributing government cheese to the elderly. Later, when the government entitlement program transitioned from a restricted age-based to a need-based subsidy, the Council on Aging transitioned to a name full of pizazz.
LWWC is composed of three organizational services: transportation, food distribution, and senior care. Normally, non-profits specialize in a single service to meet specific needs. Yet, when the goal is caring for people at a holistic level, services will naturally evolve. For example, what began at LWWC in the 80’s as a volunteer transport service to take the elderly to and from medical appointments, has become, due to grant funding, the cloud-administered public transit system of Wabash County. Similarly, what began as a grassroots community food pantry in a closet at LWWC HQ, has now through multiple partnerships including Wal-Mart and Second Harvest food bank, evolved into a distribution service that dispenses 2.5 tons of food into the community, serving between 500-600 households a week.
By being strategic, flexible, and persistent in pursuing collaborative partnerships, LWWC has experienced longevity and comprehensive influence over the state of senior care in Wabash County. The secret to their success is two fold. According to Beverly Ferry, CEO of LWWC, the organization, “follows the numbers with a heart.” Though she respects the popular quip, “no margin, no mission”, she also knows that data can’t exclusively dictate an organization’s actions. While making sure to be realistic and transparent about money as an organization, Ms. Ferry has made sure that only board members and staff that are passionate about LWWC’s mission are involved. In this way, organizational development remains the goal and financial management becomes the key.
The second key to LWWC’s impact has to do with its rubric of success. LWWC does not only hold its programs to local or statewide standards, but measures itself against national best practices. Ms. Ferry prioritized learning from, and being mentored by, organizations whose programs are nationally recognized. Each time LWWC envisioned improving their transportation, food pantry, or senior center services, Ms. Ferry took classes, attended conferences, and sought counsel on program development. Having become equipped with programmatic strategy, she then sought like-minded partners for implementation. Through this systematic effort, LWWC was able to foster strong, manageable programs supported by carefully developed infrastructure.
Yet, many seasons of change can be precipitated by hardship. LWWC, like many public service organizations, went through seasons of struggle and disappointment. Even if you, “follow the numbers with a heart”, being responsible with the data, despite emotions, can require severing organizational limbs. When grant money evaporated for one program in particular, “We were bleeding as an organization” said Ms. Ferry, “and we had to prioritize. The data wasn’t adding up and we questioned if these services were worthwhile to the mission. There was a human cost…and it was painful…we were afraid it was going to cost us not only our agency, but our mission.” But rather than failing, after a year or two, the change brought about new grant opportunities and partnerships. LWWC was able to refocus and create the excellent programs they offer today. Sometimes, “You have to hang in there, know where you are trying to go, and not give up” said Ms. Ferry.
Currently, LWWC is working on streamlining their senior center program and, true to form, Ms. Ferry is doing her research. From trying new forms of fundraising, to attending conferences on Capitol Hill, LWWC continues to apply its strategy of partnering “data-heart” driven vision to national best practices in order to ensure that “Living Well in Wabash County” isn’t just an organizational name, but a community quality.