By Peggy Ingraham
Banners. Signs with a word or two. Banners and signs beckoning us to look, and then directing or demanding something of us. They seem to have become part of the urban and suburban landscape. Do you notice them when you drive, or walk, or bike along? They are so commonplace here in this area that their very ubiquity makes them easy to overlook. And coming from someone who remembers the time when they were rare, that’s an odd thing to say. But I admit I often ignore them, because, in some areas of this and neighboring towns anyway, they hang on poles and posts on nearly every street corner. That can make it seem as though someone or something is demanding too much of me when I have places to go and my own tasks to think about.
A lot of the time, of course, that something to think about is related to our work here at NFESH. So it was one day a few weeks ago when I was taking a back way to the office through a heavily-bannered corridor. It is one of those sprawling complexes of offices, shops, restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues and high rise housing. It is dotted by traffic lights every block as well. As I stopped at one cross street, I looked up at the banner that had the name of the developer tastefully displayed across the bottom. “Collaborate” it shouted in bolder, brighter vertical lettering. Hmm, I thought as the light changed and I lurched one block ahead…yes, to see the command “Educate” flapping in the wind on the next corner. But by then my interest was piqued and I was actually hoping for a red light. I got what I wished for. “Innovate.” Then came the final suggestion, at least in the direction I was driving: “Invigorate” it encouraged.
That one word, more than the rest, grasped my attention. And it lead me out of the traffic crawl to thinking about how often organizations in the nonprofit world (and other sectors as well, I suppose) repeat the first three words in the series and completely overlook this last. Education and collaboration stand at the core of what we at NFESH do, and so it should be. By its very definition, the so-called “aging network,” which we serve and with whom we work, is a collaboration– and one that depends and thrives on education in and across its levels. We are dedicated to doing our share of providing that. Out of the twin pillars of education and collaboration, innovation grows. Or it should. Our What A Waste initiative, say the nearly 100 congregate nutrition programs that have implemented it, is a valuable and needed innovation. That is only one example of how important it is to “innovate.”
The overlooked word, namely “invigorate,” may be the most important of them all. Innovation for innovation’s sake is sure to lose its luster eventually if for no other reason than that it lacks purpose. And that is a pretty compelling reason. Invigorate, on the other hand, can and should be a driving force that impels organizations and networks forward to achieve their missions. Invigorate. Literally “to fill with life,” or, alternately, “to put the life back into.” All our innovations need to be focused on invigoration — first of senior nutrition programs (particularly those that are congregate) but foremost on the seniors they serve.
In other words, Congregate Nutrition Programs (CNPs) need to give priority to putting the life back into those whose quality of life and health are at risk. That means redoubling efforts to reach and serve those seniors who suffer from “hunger and food insecurity,” and thus affirming the first statutory purpose of the programs as articulated in the Older Americans Act. Invigorating the needy fulfills the entire community, both those who serve and those who receive.
Collaborate, Educate, Innovate, Invigorate. Those banners have given new meaning to the concept of sign language. And it’s worth stopping for a moment on the busy road of our daily grinds to heed the message and translate it into action. Here at NFESH, we have. We invite you to join us and then help us wave a fifth banner. Commit.