Inaugural Vital Seniors Competition seeks solutions for county's growing senior population

Washtenaw County's senior population is set to explode between now and 2040, and the finalists in a major new competition have a variety of ideas to address that population's needs.


Vital Seniors: A Community Innovation Competition is sponsored by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) through its Glacier Hills Legacy Fund, which is devoted to sparking innovation in programs for adults 60 and over.


Using demographic projections by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), AAACF CEO Neel Hajra says that not only is the county's population of seniors over 60 going to more than double between 2010 and 2040, but the population of those 75 and older will triple in that same time frame. The number of vulnerable seniors at or near the poverty line is expected to double in that timeframe as well.


At the same time, because of smaller families and greater geographic dispersion of families, "the ratio of family caregivers to seniors is plummeting," Hajra says.


"When we look ahead to the 2030s and 2040s, national statistics show there will be fewer family supports for more seniors, and that's why we're trying to bring attention to the issue and have the community, as a whole, rally around this point," he says.


The AAACF has already awarded $20,000 "capacity grants" to each of 10 finalists:


Innovations proposed by the 10 finalists range from new transportation models for seniors to supportive housing for seniors who want to age in place to various senior health initiatives.


Over the summer, the finalists will use the $20,000 to improve their organizations' capacities and tweak their ideas, says Chris Lemon, senior program officer for AAACF. The 10 finalists have already been through one capacity-building workshop that involved a "visioning" session with ZingTrain and a round-robin meetup with coaches that will be matched with each of the 10 organizations.


While the organizations had to provide an overview of the project they proposed, the coaching and workshops will allow them to refine and improve their ideas.


"We're leaving the door open for each project to evolve further, since this is an innovation competition," Lemon says.


In the fall, the competition will award a $500,00 grand prize, a $250,000 Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation Caregiver Prize, two awards for $100,000, and two "People's Choice" awards of $50,000 each. The $50,000 and $100,000 prizes will be divided up into two categories, one each for organizations with operating budgets under $1 million and one each for organizations with budgets over $1 million.


Lemon says voting will take place online over several weeks in the autumn, and a final awards ceremony will take place sometime in early November. Those interested in voting for the People's Choice Awards or attending the final ceremony can watch for updates at the AAACF website, at, or on any of AAACF's social media accounts.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at


Photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.