The Founding of a Vision
After World War II, social workers, psychologists, and medical professionals began to pay closer attention to the needs of a growing senior population. People were staying healthier and living longer than previous generations. However, older adults often lived in solitary circumstances and had few opportunities for socializing. Many had recently retired from jobs that became unnecessary when the war effort ended.
On Chicago’s North Shore, a group of Winnetka residents decided to create a program that would give older adults a place to interact with friends, work on volunteer projects and learn new things.
Recruited by New Trier Township officials, a social worker named Janet Burgoon stepped in to help launch the pilot program that would eventually become the North Shore Senior Center. Mrs. Burgoon had worked under Jane Addams at the renowned Hull House in Chicago, and had served as the Midwest Regional Director of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
“There had never been a chance for older adults to get together,” Mrs. Burgoon recalled in a 1984 interview. “It really was a matter of persuading people that seniors did belong with everyone else.” After some creative lobbying by Mrs. Burgoon, the committee was allowed to rent a room in the busy Winnetka Community House to set up shop. They had one table, a rented typewriter and a small volunteer staff.
“We agreed that the committee would not impose anything, that we were going to be led completely by our contacts with older people,” said Mrs. Burgoon. “They were the only ones that could tell us what would make a difference.” She added that seniors had only one guideline to follow if they wanted to participate in the new program: “Let’s not talk about how old you are. Medical science really did most of that. If you want to talk about what you did with time,
that might be fun. Let’s do it that way.”
Engaging, Empowering, Enriching
Volunteerism was a cornerstone of our founding as well. Senior Center participants gathered around one long table and sewed, made craft projects or completed mailings for charities, such as the Infant Welfare Society and the American Cancer Society. They donated their time and talents to benefit others. They came to the Senior Center to feel useful and have their value acknowledged.
More than 60 years after our founding, we remain dedicated to the idea that as a community resource we can help older adults live engaged, empowered and enriched lives. Today, with 3,500 members, 500 volunteers and more than 23,000 individuals being served annually at our five locations, North Shore Senior Center's game plan for success has not varied—but the roster of players has increased substantially.
Going Forward and Growing
At the Arthur C. Nielsen, Jr. Campus in Northfield, (which opened in 2000) we present more than 300 educational and experiential programs each trimester. These offerings represent subjects as diverse as literature, foreign language, fine arts, theater and cinema, politics, economics, computer technology, science, health and fitness.
Our 83 social service professionals, who work in Northfield and in our Niles Senior & Family Services Office, help seniors access information, benefits and services so they can remain active and independent in their communities. For more than 25 years, our House of Welcome Adult Day Services has provided critical support for people living with memory loss and for their caregivers.
Every day, North Shore Senior Center touches thousands of lives. We do so by continuing to be a welcoming place where seniors can come to volunteer, socialize with friends, explore their interests, or find the support they need.