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Shepherd's Center of America - History

As a minister, Elbert Cole recognized that as individuals were retiring from careers and moving into the next stage of life, they maintained an intense desire to continue growing and contributing to society. Cole also held strong beliefs about personal wellness (physically, mentally and spiritual), lifelong learning, interfaith and interracial cooperation. These values, shared by so many, just needed to be tapped. Cole saw that after decades of making a living, older adults were committed to live life with meaning. By tapping into a deep sense of compassion to help others, to engage in educational enrichment, and to use their talents to find new ways to improve the quality of life in their communities, older adults are a force for good.

So in 1971 a community planning team, using concepts of empowerment, ownership and participatory decision-making, designed an organization that provided opportunities to meet a range of needs of retired adults. A year later, the first Shepherd’s Center opened in Kansas City as a new model for aging that empowered older adults to use their wisdom, skills and talents to create opportunities for themselves and others. Success was immediate and Shepherd's Centers rapidly expanded to other neighborhoods and communities.

For nearly five decades, Shepherd’s Centers of America has been a beacon for shaping the national conversation on positive aging in America. Today, our programs and services promote solutions for a more productive, meaningful and independent way of living in later life. Building on years of experience, our empowering programs focus on life-long learning, health and wellness and volunteering in community in order to foster independence (and interdependence), grow meaningful friendships, and minimize social isolation.

From a grassroots initiative to a national movement, Shepherd’s Centers of America is a network of interfaith, community-based organizations designed by, with and for older adults. Each local affiliate Shepherd’s Center is a separate non-profit led by an independent board of trustees. As one of the first organizations to celebrate the power of aging, Shepherd’s Centers of America is dedicated to establishing new centers, supporting existing ones and contributing to the national aging network.

Cole and his innovative vision of aging have been recognized by numerous national awards. This vision and the Shepherd’s Centers mission are more relevant than ever as Americans are living longer, healthier lives in community. 

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