The Beginning:
A Network of Care for Aging Hoosiers

In 1971, then Mayor Richard Lugar appointed a task force on aging to develop a comprehensive program of services for older citizens in the Indianapolis community.  The task force recommendations were accepted by the Mayor in late 1972 and a permanent corporation, the Central Indiana Council on Aging Inc. (CICOA), was established on Jan.  7, 1974, to carry out programs using local funding.

John Riggle, the project director on aging for the task force, was named as CICOA’s first director.  As part of the incorporation, CICOA applied for designation as the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for Central Indiana.  Although we were part of a national system of coordinated care established by the Older Americans Act, CICOA never lost focus on providing programs and services that were the right fit for Central Indiana.

The 1970s:
Growth and Expansion

A state-funded nutrition project began operations in October 1973, serving 85 meals the first day at four sites, including the Indianapolis Senior Center, and expanding to 19 sites by the end of the year.  Soon afterward the oversight of the program was transferred to CICOA, and we continued to increase the number of congregate meal sites and also began offering home-delivered meals.

Because of a mandate from the State Commission on Aging, CICOA formed County Councils on Aging and Service Corporations in Marion and the seven surrounding counties. The first, Morgan County Senior Center, was established in the fall of 1974, and the last, Johnson County, was formed in 1979. In addition to this expansion, we also entered into our first grant agreement with the State of Indiana to provide case management services and an employment program for low-income elderly residents.

In the late 70s, we began offering other services, including housing repair, legal, nursing home ombudsman, and a program for the visually impaired.  In addition to this growth, the end of the decade also brought transition in the form of a new executive director, Duane Etienne. Etienne would continue CICOA’s aggressive growth in programs and services for nearly 30 years, also expanding our client base to include people of all ages living with disabilities.

The 1980s:
Focus on Aging in Place

CICOA kicked off the new decade by opening the first free-standing adult day care center in the state. CICOA’s board of directors also began to advocate for community-based and in-home care to help seniors “age in place” as an alternative to institutional care. In 1983, after the Indiana General Assembly passed the Pre-Admission Screening for Nursing Homes law, CICOA received funds to staff an in-home care program. Funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the late 80s allowed CICOA to provide and expand preventative services designed to help seniors live more productive lives.

Other changes in the decade included the addition of transportation services in 1985 for clients throughout the region, a service that CICOA continues to fund today through other providers. In 1988, we also began serving the employment needs of the homeless and marginally housed elderly, and one year later assumed responsibility for providing in-home care assistance for Central Indiana seniors.

The 1990s:
Increased Services and Funding Sources

Near the end of the 80s, the Indiana General Assembly enacted the CHOICE program (Community and Home Options to Institutional Care of the Elderly and Disabled) to provide services for low-income seniors. In 1992, CICOA was chosen to implement CHOICE in Central Indiana to help keep seniors and individuals of all ages with disabilities out of more expensive nursing home care.

After a 1991 needs study showed an increasing demand for services, CICOA Foundation was incorporated in 1992 to raise additional funds to support CICOA’s work and reduce waiting lists for services.  Through sponsorships and donations to the Foundation, we were able to add seasonal programs to improve quality of life for seniors and people living with disabilities including fan and air conditioner distribution in the summer, furnace and gutter cleaning in the fall, and free holiday long distance calls, food baskets and airline tickets.

That same year, the Indiana Department of Human Services awarded CICOA a grant to develop a coalition to serve individuals living with disabilities. CICOA also launched Senior Building Blocks, a precursor to our current Lifelong Living Communities program, to modify houses to allow seniors to better age in place. CICOA also launched an Information and Assistance Center, which was certified by the State of Indiana as an Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC) 15 years later, in 2008.

A New Century

The turn of the century brought increased national recognition for CICOA. The agency received accreditation by the Joint Council on Accreditation in New York in 2002, a designation that has been renewed to this day.  Indianapolis also was selected to participate in the national AdvantAge Initiative to benchmark elder friendly communities. Through CICOA’s participation, an Action Guide and a Report to the Community about the status of older adults in Indiana were developed and shared throughout Central Indiana.

The new decade also brought cuts in state funding. CICOA cut expenses, streamlined some services and established waiting lists for others. The CICOA Foundation, through generous grants and corporate sponsorships, established a client assistance fund for the imminent needs of those on the waiting list.

Despite budget restrictions, we continued to diversify programs and services, adding a family caregiver and support program, collaborating on the Indy Creative Aging website, designating three elder friendly communities and increasing meal deliveries.  Near the end of the decade, CICOA had to double the number of care managers to manage our growing client case load.

New Leadership, Renewed Vision

After 29 years of service, Etienne announced his retirement in 2008. CICOA began looking for a leader who could further diversify fundraising and amplify marketing and outreach efforts, and found that leader in Orion Bell. Bell began his tenure as president and CEO in October 2008, bringing more than 20 years of executive level experience with the American Red Cross.

CICOA Today

In Fiscal Year 2015, CICOA served a record number of people and provided more than $50 million in direct economic impact to Central Indiana through services, grants and vendor payments. Today the agency continues to be good stewards of public and private dollars while staying focused on the needs of seniors and people with disabilities living in Central Indiana.