Janet Jernigan Models Behavior for Active, Older Adults


A role model for active aging, FiftyForward Executive Director Janet Jernigan is known to conduct meetings and business on the run, literally. While many top executives may make contacts on the golf course, Jernigan is known for catching up with individuals in locations ranging from the boardroom to community gatherings and the greenways.

Jernigan has successfully competed in numerous marathons, half marathons and triathlons over the past 30 years and has set age-group course records in the Tennessee State Senior Olympics for the 5K road race, 20K cycling event and 1,500 meter power walk; and has been Half Marathon State Champion in the senior grand masters division for several years. In addition to her running awards, she co-chaired the steering committee for the inaugural Viva la Diva Run, a charitable run that benefits FiftyForward. In November 2016 the event will mark its 6th anniversary. Janet and her husband, French, have also won hundreds of awards for national and international competitions with their spotted saddle horses.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vanderbilt University, she holds a Master of Arts degree in psychology and education from George Peabody College and a Master of Business Administration from Tennessee State University. Jernigan has also been honored for her work in the Nashville nonprofit community. In 1998, she was inducted into the YWCA Academy for Women of Achievement; and in 1999, she became the first CEO of the Year award recipient from the Center for Nonprofit Management. In 2009, she was named the Athena Award recipient; in 2014, she was named CABLE’s Molly Todd Cup honoree and was also honored with Nashville Business Journal’s Most Admired CEO in the nonprofit category.

In 2015, as she celebrated her 25 years with FiftyForward, she was also honored as NBJ Women of Influence Award as part of a “Dynamic Duo” accolade she shares with FiftyForward Associate Executive Director Adrienne Newman. Jernigan is active in the Downtown Rotary Club and has also served on the Greater Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Governors, the Metropolitan Planning Commission and she is an alumnus of Leadership Nashville.

Jernigan’s career includes several executive leadership positions at a number of local nonprofits; however, she has led FiftyForward for more than 26 years where she and her team have built a reputation as a trusted community partner by advocating for successful, engaged and independent living for older adults — a demographic which is now growing at an unprecedented level.

According to a study by Pew Research Center, approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers mark their 65th birthday every day and this trend will continue for more than a decade. As this new booming population changes the face of America, it also impacts the need for services and resources to assist these older adults.

United Health Foundation’s report America’s Health Rankings (2015), Tennessee ranks 43 out of 50 states for seniors in overall health which is defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Indicators that are of major concern in our state include smoking, physical inactivity and obesity/diabetes.

Today, many companies and organizations now recognize the buying potential of Boomers and seek to serve this rapidly expanding demographic. According to Jernigan, while the size and needs of the population warrant more service, the expertise of the company seeking to assist a loved one needs to be the most critical factor in choosing a care partner. FiftyForward takes this task so seriously the agency is now in the middle of an internal assessment to formulate an updated Strategic Plan based on input from hundreds of community stakeholders.

Launched in 1956, FiftyForward (then called Senior Citizens, Inc.) was established almost 10 years before the Older Americans Act (OAA) was enacted in 1965. The OAA was launched specifically in response to concern by policymakers about the lack of community social services for elders. Now, as one of the longest-standing nonprofits in Nashville providing direct services to adults 50 and older, FiftyForward advocates for older adults, promoting best practices that help adults improve their lives such as receiving a property tax freeze for qualifying homeowners and establishing brick and mortar lifelong learning centers in communities where there was a greater concentration of older adults. Today, FiftyForward programs, centers and services offer resources that encompass what 15 independent agencies in the community might provide.

FiftyForward also strives to match interests of older adults with volunteer opportunities. Active adults can find an endless array of activities at the agency’s seven centers in Middle Tennessee ranging from arts, entertainment and travel to education and wellness. FiftyForward centers in Davidson County include Bordeaux, Donelson Station, J. L. Turner at the Bellevue Family YMCA, Knowles, and Madison Station. And in Williamson County, FiftyForward College Grove and the FiftyForward Martin Center in Brentwood serve residents in those areas and surrounding communities. FiftyForward Supportive Care Services focuses on identifying basic needs, creating access to resources and helping older adults live independently. Adult Day Services, Meals on Wheels, Victory Over Crime and Living at Home Care Management comprise this division.

Considering its 60-year history, the agency’s roots and resources are extensive and responsive to the changing face of community. As the Boomer generation evolves, many young Boomers are now caring for their parents, older family members or friends. FiftyForward launched the entrepreneurial, fee generating Care Team to encourage independence by assisting those who need help navigating access to resources and to address care concerns. From assessment to services, the Care Team is the “go to” resource for care for an older adult.

Since Jernigan joined the agency, the FiftyForward annual budget has increased from $1 million to the current $4.1 million. In addition, the organization’s customer service rating exceeds 95 percent and FiftyForward is graced by more than 3,000 volunteers plus dozens of community partners who together impact the lives of more than 20,000 individuals (senior adults, families and children) each year.

In life, we know the only constant is change. As the needs of this older generation continue to change and expand, Jernigan and her team are committed to fostering partnerships with a nimble and active willingness to go the extra mile to serve older adults in the community we all know, love and call home.

For more information, visit www.fiftyforward.org.

photo courtesy of Janet Jernigan