A slew of innovative, inter-generational, person-centered stories gives me, even more, hope about the future of aging services.

By Steve Moran

Stories are by far the most compelling and memorable way to convey a message, a feeling, and even a philosophy. I was recently pleasantly surprised to hear some very interesting stories from Kari Olsen, head of innovation and technology for Front Porch, a non-profit senior living provider.

Kari and I sat down together at the Boomer Summit to chat about what Front Porch is working on and the result was a slew of innovative, intergenerational, person-centered stories that gives me, even more, hope about the future of aging services. Although Kari and I did not have an agenda, she described some very interesting initiatives that are worth sharing.

Innovation Workshops

Building an “innovation culture” among all of its employees is the main focus of Front Porch, says Kari, who stresses that doing so helps the company transform more quickly and more efficiently, and at the same time manage risk. How do they do this? Kari told me that the organization educates its entire workforce around innovation: “Executives get six weeks of innovation education, frontline staff comes to our innovation workshops, everybody in the organization for the past three years has been working on action learning projects about the best ideas that they have about to transform our organization.”

And as if innovation workshops for all of its employees weren’t enough, they have also created a Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, which is being used as an idea incubator and an accelerator, Kari says.

Co-Creating a Future with Residents

At this point in the conversation, I was already pretty impressed, but I decided to dig a little deeper. So, I asked her to tell me about some things the Center has done already. She did not disappoint.

Kari described an initiative that engages the Front Porch workforce to “come up with ideas and co-create our future with our residents.” One example of this work occurred at a community where a number of retired teachers live. “We had a relationship with an elementary school that really wanted to do more, and the residents came up with a summer camp that they wanted to create,” Kari said. “The residents were out front defining what they wanted to do and how they wanted to relate to these elementary school staff coming in behind and supporting them to get it done.”

The result was a successful initiative that Kari says was “a huge hit” all around. The camp, which took place at the community, included about 40 children from fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. “The [retired] teachers taught subjects that they were really excited about and we had all kinds of activities,” Kari said. “They joined our wellness program, they swam in our pools, they ate in our dining room, and they helped with transportation back and forth between our community. It was like a whole-person wellness program that is intergenerational in scope.”

As a bonus, the camp initiative also garnered media coverage and “elevated the community to a new level of engagement and that really creates the type of environment where people thrive.”

Alexa Pilot Liberates Residents

Yet another initiative Kari described is a pilot launched last February with Amazon’s Alexa. Residents and staff at Front Porch’s Carlsbad community began experimenting with the smart-home device by asking each participant about their preferences, such as their favorite radio station, newspaper, book, music and more and then loading the content on Alexa for them to access using voice control.  

“It’s created this incredible adoption model and empowerment for older adults to say, ‘Hey, this can work for me, and you know what, I’m getting all these individual things that I want, and I am now going to tell you the other things I want delivered this way,’” said Kari. “And we’re really excited about it.”

Kari had even more interesting stories to report, which you can watch on the video here: