April 2018

How do you expand participation? Create a challenge!

'17 in 2017' participants at a Diakon Community Services event

There’s no question: Society changes. And changes all the time.

The key, then, to remaining relevant is to change with the times—to create the types of programs and services that people want. 

In 2008, Diakon Community Services did just that—as the popularity of senior centers ebbed a bit, Diakon created Diakon Living & Learning After 50, a type of “senior center without walls.” The program has experienced remarkable growth and achieved great popularity since then.

At the same time, center-based services remain a definite community need, particularly with the provision of noon meals, and Diakon Community Services has focused on adding services at the five centers it manages to meet changing needs.

But how to get the word out—to reach community older adults who might not know of the centers or of their changing services?

And who might not know of the variety of other services available in Schuylkill County managed by Diakon Community Services, including APPRISE health-insurance counseling, Meals on Wheels and the Pennsylvania Health & Wellness program (previously called PrimeTime Health) ... as well as the Living & Learning program?

Staff came up with a novel idea last year, a challenge called Discover and Win with Diakon: 17 in 2017. A challenge so successful that it is being continued: Discover and Win with Diakon: 18 in 2018. 

The goal of the effort is to increase awareness of the many opportunities available at the community-based senior centers as well as the other programs. The challenge, says Karen Wood, executive director of Diakon Community Services, was to get more older adults out of their homes, have them become involved in varying activities, learn more about ways they can volunteer to help their neighbors and help them realize there is always something new to learn!  

The “17 in 2017” challenge helped to build excitement about the programs and inspired older adults to take part in more activities, says Debbie Herb, program coordinator, center services. “The challenge encouraged people to check out the different centers and many reconnected with people they hadn’t seen in years,” she notes.

More than 300 area residents completed cards

So what was the “Discover & Win with Diakon …17 in 2017” challenge?

Participants were given Discover & Win activity cards to record participation credits for each activity. Each card had space for 17 credits, with each completed card entered into a random drawing for a chance to win prizes, including a big-screen television set, Windows tablet, gift certificates and more.

More than 300 area residents completed cards, some handing in three or four completed cards throughout the year. In total, the program generated 7,963 “credits” for all activities offered. Credits were received for attending everything from an arts class to volunteering to Zentangle.

Participants learn to use electronic tablets in one educational session.

Earlier this year, some 40 “17 in 2017” participants celebrated the completion of the program. Everyone enjoyed lunch and 28 cards were randomly chosen to win the prizes that had been donated by local businesses and individuals. Herb said,

“It was a great day,” says Herb. “It was fun to see people cheering one another on. It also helped get them excited for this year’s program,” which includes some new programs, including a grant-funded art class, safe-driving classes and journaling. 

The program itself has generated additional awareness of Diakon Community Services, as well as the continuing need for more volunteers for such programs as Meals on Wheels.

“It’s all about reaching out and partnering with people,” says Susan Long, director, center services, who also oversees Diakon Living & Learning. 

“Without them, none of this could happen.” adds Herb. “Our small team couldn’t accomplish all this without others willing to share their time and talent.”


Diakon Community Services manages the senior community centers in Pottsville, Shenandoah, Schuylkill Haven, Tremont and Mahanoy City, as well as the APPRISE, Meals on Wheels and Pennsylvania Health & Wellness programs in the county under a contract with the Schuylkill County Office of Seniors Services, with funding provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. 

Mahanoy City senior community center participants work on an art project.

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