Dr. Elbert Cole, a minister in Kansas City, Missouri, observed that as individuals retired from careers and moved into the next stage of life, they maintained an intense desire to continue growing and contributing to society. He recognized that with a deep sense of compassion to help others, a need to engage in educational enrichment, and a desire to use their talents to improve the quality of life in their communities, older adults are a force for good. These values, shared by so many, just needed to be tapped.
So in 1971, a community planning team, using concepts of empowerment, ownership and participatory decision-making, designed an organization that provided opportunities to meet the needs of retired adults. A year later, the first Shepherd’s Center opened as a new model for aging. Designed by, with and for older adults, it empowered participants to use their wisdom, skills and talents to create opportunities for themselves and others.
Success was immediate and Cole’s model inspired neighboring communities to launch their own centers. The Shepherd’s Center of America opened in 1975 with Cole providing training programs for communities to pull together boards, volunteers and funding to start new centers. Shepherd’s Centers rapidly expanded. The local affiliate, The Shepherd’s Center of Richmond, was founded in 1984 by Rev. Robert S. Seiler.
Cole and his new model of aging have been recognized by national awards and shaped the conversation on positive aging. His model remains relevant today as Shepherd’s Centers nationwide continue to promote solutions for ways of living in later life.