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Enhancing Quality of Life for Seniors

Hannan House, Presbyterian Villages of Michigan and the School of Social Work Come Together to Develop Community Connections

Luella Hannan founded the Luella Hannan Memorial Foundation in 1925 to serve aged persons in Detroit. Today, the Foundation celebrates 90 years of service to seniors, and extends its reach into the city’s tri-county area. The Foundation was established on the belief that caring for elders is a central value of our community. Its mission is to enhance the quality of life for senior citizens in metropolitan Detroit by identifying the unmet physical, social and financial needs and by maintaining facilities and creating programs that both address these needs and preserve the dignity of seniors.

During its first five decades, the Foundation provided comprehensive lifetime assistance to hundreds of low-income seniors living in the community. In 1971, the foundation built Hannan House, a four-story licensed home for the aged to provide an affordable living environment, which promoted independence. 

In 1993, the Hannan Foundation conducted a comprehensive study of Detroit seniors living in the central city. The results indicated that the single-room housing provided at Hannan House was no longer in demand in that neighborhood. Instead, the study showed that access to services was a major problem for seniors. In response, and after consultation with senior service experts, the foundation converted Hannan House into a centralized location housing other nonprofit organizations to help seniors access services to meet their medical, social, financial and housing needs. The Foundation continues to initiate, operate and support a number of programs and services in areas including advocacy, creative aging and service coordination and case management in both senior housing and the community.

U-M SSW Professor and Associate Dean Ruth Dunkle is the president of the Hannan Foundation board of trustees. She has been instrumental in perpetuating the mission to allow seniors to live independently while working with Community Connections, Presbyterian Village of Michigan and the Hannan Foundation. Community Connections is a product of Hannan House, Presbyterian Villages and the Hannan Foundation working together. Hannan House provides services to older adults and Presbyterian Village is a housing model structured to keep the elderly in their own homes. Community Connections is a nonprofit membership organization, providing residents 50 years or older with access to services that support their goal of remaining at home as long as possible, while also staying connected to the community.


“The idea is to provide services in low-income/subsidized communities and surrounding areas to keep seniors independent,” Dunkle said. “They can have easily accessed resources to find the type of services they might need, ranging from dog
walkers to visiting nurses to grocery delivery, that allow them to continue living in their home.” “It’s a matchmaking organization providing services for members. They can ask for help, but they can also provide assistance to others when needed,”
said Amy Smyth, former director of Community Connections of Michigan.

Community Connections is the umbrella that provides the core services for these “chapters” or communities to become organized and focused on sustainable living. A century ago, multiple generations of a family lived together in the same home or block, with help for older relatives built right into the family. This is what Community Connections is trying to replicate in midtown Detroit. The principles of Community Connections are simple; instead of leaving their homes for senior housing or assisted living, a group of mid town Detroit residents are staying put.

Midtown Detroit is the first organized Community Connections chapter for the elderly, and communities also thrive in Harbor Springs with one being developed in Westland, Michigan. 

The midtown chapter is large enough to organize and deliver services efficiently and small enough for members to make meaningful connections and lasting friendships. 

The School of Social Work Curtis Center Program Evaluation Group under Dunkle’s direction is collecting and analyzing data so Community Connections can make informed decisions, provide services to members efficiently and develop ways to expand to other communities in the state. The Program Evaluation Group uses an apprenticeship and mentoring model where social work students learn evaluation skills by working on real-world projects with real clients, real deadlines and real deliverables.

“The social work students were invaluable,” Smyth said. “They helped to develop an evaluation plan and also shared their knowledge of community organizing. With their help we cultivated new members for the midtown Detroit project.”

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