Cooperating for a common goal
In 1999, I was introduced to a fledgling networking group known as Senior Outreach Services of the Greater Harrisburg Area or SOS Harrisburg. This group was started by several individuals who wanted to form an alliance of area professionals who served and cared for seniors in the Harrisburg area.
Moving Forward and Competitors Co-existing
The purpose and mission of Senior Outreach Services has evolved slightly over the years, but its main objective is to encourage senior care professionals to work together for the greater good of the community and individual clients. This coalition was designed to be a source of education, advocacy, and networking by encouraging communication and cooperation between service providers. Retirement communities, nursing homes, hospice agencies, eldercare attorneys, medical equipment companies, and rehab providers are a few examples of its members.
The Harrisburg market is small compared to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but nonetheless there's a lot of competition for the business of older Pennsylvanians. It's fair to say that overzealous tactics like secret shopping or disparaging the competition was at an all-time high in the 90s. It's also naive to think that some of these same actions don't still exist today. However, the 300+ members of the group are definitely more transparent, cooperative, and supportive of one another because of the relationships they have built and nurtured through SOS. Competitors have torn down the walls and are willing to share pricing information, marketing strategies, and their ideas, ultimately for the good of the group and the senior consumer. Many members share the attitude, “If we cannot help you or meet your needs, I know someone else that can”. This approach has been its lifeblood during its existence.
While many members have come and gone or changed jobs, Senior Outreach Services has remained a constant for those dedicated to the senior care industry in Central PA. They may change companies, but if they remain dedicated to serving seniors, then typically they have stayed connected to SOS.
So what is Senior Outreach Services? The second Thursday of most months, a member hosts anywhere from 50-100 other members for a breakfast meeting. The host facility gets to present about their community or service, which is then followed by a co-host presentation. After that there is typically a guest speaker covering topics ranging from geriatric psychiatry to legislation effecting older Pennsylvanians. If time permits, each member gets a chance to stand up and introduce themselves to the group. Furthermore, the host facility may offer tours and members also have a chance to talk shop after the formal meeting is over. Other functions include an annual non-profit speed networking meeting, holiday luncheon and summer picnic.
With SOS you get out of it what you put into it. If you are looking to promote your business or an event, you can. If you are seeking advice or expertise in a specific area, you can. Or if you simply want to commiserate with or support other members, you can. There are no dues, no paid positions, and a healthy balance of bureaucracy. The group has been running this way since the beginning and it seems to work. A group such as this may not necessarily work in other markets, but here in Central Pennsylvania, Senior Outreach Services is alive and well and continues its mission of serving local seniors.Matthew J. Gallardo, BASW, CCP, is the Messiah Lifeways Coach