Just five years ago, the concept seemed impossible. As the long-term care industry faces a workforce crisis, it’s been seeking a solution to the problem that will last years to come.

Today, a first-of-its-kind Geriatric Career Development (GCD) program at Ovation Communities is addressing the issue, and at the same time, helping local at-risk students attend college and secure job opportunities.

Through LeadingAge Wisconsin’s Research & Educational Foundation, Ovation was selected as the pilot site to launch the innovative new program. Modeled after a successful program at The New Jewish Home in New York City, its vision is to inspire youth and create the next generation of healthcare professionals. The need for personal care workers is on the rise, yet today the average caregiver vacancy rate in Wisconsin nursing homes is at 19 percent. GCD helps address these critical gaps in our workforce.

The program is also aimed at helping at-risk students and addressing Milwaukee’s lower high school graduation rate, which was 60.9 percent in 2016. Program leaders hope it will help close the education achievement gap and serve as a critical resource for students coming from challenging socioeconomic backgrounds. Job opportunities through Ovation Communities and other long-term care providers in Milwaukee are available to student program participants.

“I’ve always believed that you do well by doing good. Following the Jewish value Tikkun Olam, meaning ‘Repair of the World,’ it’s our obligation to help the entire world be the best it can be,” said President and CEO Mike Sattell. “With the GCD program, we’ve been given a great opportunity to reach out to local students and lift up those who may not have a career path in front of them.”

The program saw promising results at The New Jewish Home, where in 2017, 100 percent of participating students planned to attend 33 unique colleges. The students were offered $1 million in combined scholarships, and two of the students received full scholarships.

Ovation is already seeing impacts of the program in both students and residents. perhaps the most important is how many residents have expressed an interest and passion for being mentors. When asked for help, 14 Jewish Home and Chai Point residents volunteered the first day. “Residents are sharing their wisdom about aging and their experiences working with caregivers, and above all, they are sharing their life stories and lessons,” said Sattell. “Our residents have amazing gifts and stories to tell, and through that they gain students’ confidence and show that our elders are human beings like them, just at a different stage in their lives.”

Some residents and participants even attended the same high schools, with participating schools including North Division High School, James Madison Academic Campus and Washington High School.

Raniya Bunkley, one of the program’s Summer Ambassadors, shared the impact of the residents’ guidance, “This program has helped me have better communication, create positive bonds and relationships with residents and participants, to be attentive at all times and to respect my elders.”

If you’re passionate about this program and would like more information or want to get involved, contact Michael Sattell at msattell@ovation.org.