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Improving the Lives of Older Tennesseans Through the Power of Collective Advocacy and Public-Private Partnerships


A unique example of a statewide private-public partnership is part on an ongoing story which should affect Tennessee for years to come.

As a result of two court settlements, $36 million in funding is being granted to six different organizations in Tennessee for the purposes of implementing statewide initiatives designed to make lives better for older residents. Working with the court, five philanthropic organizations – the West End Home Foundation (Nashville), United Way of Greater Knoxville, Memorial Foundation (Hendersonville), HCA Foundation (Nashville), and Assisi Foundation (Memphis) – provided their expertise to develop a process to accept, then carefully vet, statewide proposals in four specific areas:

  • Senior Legal Assistance

  • Senior Affordable Housing

  • Senior Transportation

  • Senior Dental

These areas were selected based on statewide need and a history of limited resources. Proposals were evaluated based on their level of innovation, ability to implement and sustainability. The process took almost two years to complete.

It’s important to note that statewide philanthropic efforts in the state of Tennessee can be quite daunting because of geographical constraints and governmental variances. Although just 120 miles in width, Tennessee stretches 440 miles from Memphis to Kingsport – and borders eight states along the way. The state flag staunchly displays the “Three Grand Divisions”– West, Middle and East – and serves as a constant physical reminder of the differences in landscape, demographics and politics. There is no singular statewide newspaper, nor is there a Tennessee grantmakers organization (which is exactly why organizations like SECF and GIA are so critical for us!).

It’s not exactly easy to get together around a white board to map out a theory of change or walk through a run-of-show for an event when it costs the staff a full day out of the office and a couple tanks of gas. Relationship-building can be a significant challenge. By being charged to create programming with statewide impacts, organizations were pushed to think in a new way – at least for many – and in a good way! 

The Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) is overseeing the administration of the grants. Because of the importance of this effort for older Tennesseans, TCAD and the five philanthropic organizations involved in the distribution of the grants all committed to continuing to work (for no compensation) and oversee these grants so that they achieve their overall purpose. 

The process was guided by research that consistently shows that empowering seniors to live as independently as possible is good for their mental, physical and emotional health and for their overall quality of life.  The process was designed to identify and support innovative, sustainable initiatives that could best achieve this purpose statewide with local impact.  We are confident that the awarded proposals collectively will help seniors throughout Tennessee better age in place and improve their access to home and community-based services.

Scott Perry is president of the The Memorial Foundation in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Want to learn more? Head to Memphis in October for the Grantmakers in Aging Annual Conference. You can check out the registration site here. During the conference, on Thursday, October 18, representatives from state government, provider agencies and the philanthropic sector will host a concurrent session on the process and dynamics of this process. You don’t want to miss it!

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