May 24, 2023

For people like Lisa French, enriching the lives of elderly people is a passion. Funding from grants makes this work possible.

For Lisa French, working with aging community members “feels like a mission or a calling.” We recently spoke with her about some of the programs made possible through grants from the AAACF that are enriching the lives of older people in Washtenaw County.

Older adult holding hand

Lisa works at the United Methodist Retirement Communities (UMRC)-Porter Hills Foundation, the fundraising arm for nonprofit Brio Living Services, formerly UMRC & Porter Hills, based in Chelsea. Brio is also the organization that operates Huron Valley PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly), located in Ypsilanti.

In her role leading grant writing and communications, Lisa gets to witness and coordinate how different entities in Washtenaw County, including the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), partner to make valuable services available to a segment of the population who are frequently overlooked. She also sees firsthand the impact these services have.

“I value the experiences and life stories of older people,” she explained. However, she noted, approximately only 3% or less of all funding nationally goes to their care.

“[Donors] look at funding for children as an investment, but funding for older adults is looked at as an expense," Lisa continued. “That doesn’t feel right to me. I believe it is our responsibility to care for older adults. We all want to live our best lives, and I love the opportunity I have in my role to help make this happen for older adults in our communities.”

Huron Valley PACE logo

Fresh food and enrichment at PACE

Huron Valley PACE is a day program that provides services from medical care to nourishing meals and socialization for low-income, nursing home-eligible local residents, ages 55 and up, while allowing them to remain living independently in their homes and communities.

In a recent program, Huron Valley PACE worked with Zilke Vegetable Farm in Milan to provide participants and team members with fresh, locally grown produce and baked goods at no cost to them, through an onsite “farmer’s market.” This program also included “Dinner on Us” cooking demonstrations to encourage healthy eating at home while reducing grocery spending.

According to Lisa, it was important that the program be designed to also support the staff who care for PACE participants. “Many of our team members are front line workers,” she said, “and, especially during the pandemic, it was important that they were also able to take home nutritious food at the end of day.”

Feedback on this program was overwhelmingly positive. For Huron Valley PACE participants who might not be able to attend many activities and events in the community, one noted that it felt like “going to the farmer’s market at Depot Town”: “The farmer’s market felt like we were getting out. I had a lot of fun, and it really made my day.”

One of the team members exclaimed, “The ‘Dinner on Us’ event was wonderful! I was surprised that I could create something that tasted good, looked good, and was nutrient rich. It also was done using ingredients that I have never used before but are easily available.”

Providing training and opportunities to the community at large

Grants have also provided funding to support Brio Living Services in Washtenaw County to train with Teepa Snow who founded the Positive Approach™ to Care model of supporting people with dementia.

The Positive Approach™ emphasizes deepening understanding of changes in the brain to help caregivers and family members reduce stress and improve quality of life for their loved ones living with dementia. This training was offered through the Chelsea Retirement Community (also part of Brio) and for staff members at PACE but also has been made available at no charge to anyone interested in building a more inclusive and supportive community for people with dementia.

Another program currently in the works brings together the Chelsea Retirement Community with Washtenaw Community College and Michigan Works! Southeast to provide long-term healthcare training for people who are interested in working with aging populations. Called Foundations of C.A.R.E., or Caring for Aging Residents through Education, this 10 day “boot camp” is not a certification program; rather, it prepares students to work as residential care assistants at the Chelsea Retirement Community and other care settings.

Lisa pointed out the high turnover rate in caregiving for older adults and how Foundation of C.A.R.E. can create a pipeline of qualified applicants to fill staff vacancies, at the same time opening the door to a new career path for people seeking employment opportunities.

Funding from the AAACF covers the cost of tuition and provides a stipend for each student to go toward scrubs, books, or other necessities. The program kicks off on May 15, with 14 spots available. For more information, contact

“We are delighted to have had the generous support and partnership of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation over the years to provide the best possible care for the older adults we serve and to provide enhanced training for our dedicated team members who provide that care,” said Lisa. “These grants have made such a difference, and we are grateful for the commitment of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to serve the aging population.”