The Memphis & Shelby County Council on Aging began with an organizational meeting; on April 14, 1976 at the Main Library; focusing on concerns related to seniors of health problems, lack of value for aged persons, need for public relations, intergenerational exchange, age discrimination and living arrangements. The original structure of the Council included an executive committee of officers to be elected, a coordinating council; one representative from the 40 non-profit member organizations; and an open forum, meetings presenting topics on issues related to aging open to anyone to attend. The Council began as an organization of individuals working in non-profit agencies offering health, government and social services to the senior population. The Council’s primary focus was on professional development with the establishment of a Speakers Bureau.
In June of 1976 the Council adopted its constitution and by-laws and sent the first notices of membership dues ($10). The first interim chair Linda Brasfield held office until the elections in 1976 when Jane Brennan was elected the first President. At the time of the elections the Council had 54 paid memberships. As part of the Council’s focus to provide information and education to the community, the Council began the “River View” magazine. The first issue was printed in December of 1976. This magazine project was turned over to Senior Services (Meritan) in March of 1977. Programs were offered to the membership at quarterly meetings until July of 1978 when they adopted the monthly program schedule, meeting on the second Thursday of the month.
The Council held its first ‘professional workshop’ in April of 1981. This workshop “Adult Child & Elderly Individual” was co-sponsored by Memphis State University. Many other educational opportunities were offered by the Council and co-sponsors; including the National Council of Jewish Women, Delta Area Agency (Aging Commission of the Mid-South), Mid-South Foundation for Medical Care (Q-Source), and AARP; during the early years. In 2000 the Council began sponsoring its own annual professional conference. This remained in place until 2006 when the Council joined with the Tennessee Conference on Social Welfare to present an annual conference.
In September 1981 the Council began the process of incorporating and the Charter was signed on October 15, 1981. In April of 1989, the Council relocated its office from Midtown Mental Health to the Delta Area Agency on Aging (Aging Commission of the Mid-South). The Council received its 501c3 status in 1983. The by-laws were changed in 1982 to reflect the focus of influencing the quality of life for seniors, education and networking. With the first “Brag-N-Swap” in 1986, where the members could promote their services to all during the meeting the Council received its first for-profit membership.
In an effort to educate seniors on the services available to them within our community, the Council offered many Senior Consumer Information Fairs throughout the years with nationally known keynote speakers such as Pauline Gore and Phyllis Diller. In 1991 the Council officially adopted the name “Senior Expo” for the senior consumer fair. “Senior Expo has been held at a variety of locations including the University of Memphis, Cook Convention Center, the Shelby County building at the fairgrounds and the Memphis Botanic Gardens. To expand the opportunities for the Council to promote education to seniors, they partnered with the Memphis Zoo to establish a fun and informative day for seniors. The very first “Senior Day at the Memphis Zoo was held in May of 1988. In the future the Council separated these events, offering “Senior Expo” in the spring and the “Senior Day at the Zoo” in the fall.
A long range planning committee was established in 1994 to sharpen the focus of the Council to emphasize under-served senior needs, addressing these needs through networking, community education and advocacy. With the adoption of new by-laws in 2001, the Council’s mission focuses on educating those serving seniors to elevate the quality of life for all seniors in our community. In 2000 the Council completed its first formal ‘strategic planning’ and presented the report to the membership. To continue to provide the best possible service to the membership and community the Council started work on a new five year strategic plan in 2007 under the direction of David Williams.
The Council’s Legislative Committee has continued as an advocate for seniors through their focus on legislative topics. In 1999 the Council continued its support for Home and Community Based Services by partnering with AARP to send letters to the governor to increase funding for this issue. Through the hard work of the Legislative Committee and the advocacy of the Council and its members, Tennessee received increased funding for this vital program. The Council continues to advocate for this and other programs that are of importance to its membership and mission. In 2007 the Legislative Committee partnered with the Aging Commission of the Mid-South establishing a new initiative to educate and enlighten the community and its leaders on “Redesigning an Aging America”. This two year project will provide educational forums quarterly to help us all rethink what type of user friendly community we want to have for our future.
During the 2007 strategic planning process the board of directors, based on membership research, community interviews, an organizational assessment, developed a number of critical issues to be addressed in the final plan. These issues ranged from developing a vision statement and clearer mission for the organization to addressing the confusion of the Council and the Aging Commission. By first clarifying that COA is a “membership” organization comprised of professionals and agencies that serve the aging in the Mid-South, the recommendation was made to focus its primary mission on serving its members in order that its members can better serve their constituencies - the aging in the Mid-South. The recommendation was made to change the name to “Professional Network on Aging” to better reflect the purpose of the organization, including the sub-line of “Serving the Mid-South” to welcome members from the counties surrounding Memphis. The membership ratified the name change at the March 2008 meeting.