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Commentary: Gary Fickes: Empowering Seniors to Meet Emerging Needs for 55+ Market

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Empowering Seniors to Meet Emerging Needs for 55+ Market

When our inaugural Empowering Seniors event took place on Friday, October 2, 2009, we anticipated a solid attendance, but were amazed that 300 guests filled The Hills Church in Richland Hills. My team and I were thrilled with the turnout.

Empowering Seniors was the brainchild of the Northeast Tarrant County Seniors Task Force that we formed earlier that year. Our team asked participants in what we call the 55-and-better age range what they wanted, and they identified five priorities:

1. They wanted their own local event rather than the only area event at the time, which was in that D-city on the east side of State Highway 360

2. They wanted to speak with health care professionals, from hospitals to health-driven companies such as pharmacies and home health providers

3. They wanted to interact with exhibitors that offered senior-related products and services in a casual, no-pressure atmosphere

4. They wanted food

5. And they wanted it all for free

When we met with our local hospitals -JPS, Texas Health HEB, Baylor Grapevine (now Baylor/Scott & White Grapevine) and North Hills Hospital (now Medical City North Hills) – they embraced the program with tremendous enthusiasm. They became our lead sponsors and helped us recognize that the demand far exceeded the space we had available that first year.

Our Senior Task Force and my team raised the bar by dreaming in full color. We envisioned what a comprehensive, full-blown health and lifestyle expo could look like. We met with First Baptist Euless (now Cross City Church) and they agreed to allow us to host Empowering Seniors at their Campus West complex on the northwest corner of Airport Freeway at North Industrial – a former grocery store with plenty of room.

For our second year, we expanded our offerings and provided free health screenings from our hospitals. The result: Our attendance grew from that initial 300 to over 800 seniors and caregivers. We then realized that there was a massive demand for a senior event, so we added more entertainment, classroom sessions with medical professionals and such topics as elder fraud, Medicare updates and chronic disease prevention.

To paraphrase the line in “Field of Dreams,” we built it and they came! 1,000 the third year, then 1,400 and 1,800. We thought it could not get any larger when we surpassed the 2,000 mark. We next expanded the audience to include baby boomers because many of them are caring for their loved ones. Also, the boomers are what we call “seniors-to-be.”

This year, we are nibbling at 3,000 at the 11th Annual Empowering Seniors Health & Lifestyle Expo.

We have welcomed celebrity guests who warmed the hearts of our seniors, starting with KXAS/NBC5 celebrity reporter, Bobbie Wygant, who shared stories about movie stars that our audience loved, from John Wayne and Jerry Lewis to Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day.

Our celebrity guests have included horticulture expert Neil Sperry, Texas Rangers All-Star catcher Jim Sundberg, and Dallas Cowboys All-Pro and Super Bowl champions Randy White and Bob Lilly.

We added yet another celebrity when Care ‘N’ Care Insurance became our title sponsor, since their spokesman is iconic weatherman and Care ‘N’ Care Insurance member, Troy Dungan, who you will remember for his legendary service on WFAA /News 8 TV.

This year, we will host WBAP-820 AM’s morning show broadcast that runs from 5:00 to 9:00 a.m. with Hal Jay and Brian Estridge on-site. Morning show hosts Hal Jay and Brad Barton will sign autographs and pose for photos with their fans from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

We have learned a lot about how to serve our audience of seniors, caregivers and baby boomers because their needs are constantly evolving. In our first several years, the three most pressing issues were senior isolation, safety and transportation. We distributed most of the proceeds of our event to such transportation organizations as Mid-Cities Care Corps, CARS (Call A Ride of Southlake), NETS (NorthEast Transportation Service) and STS (Social Transportation for Seniors) and HEB Transit.

Each of these organizations has provided valuable and much-needed transportation access for our seniors, caregivers and their families.

The face of transportation is changing, and we are considering what our next phase of serving our senior population will look like. There’s no doubt that the above-mentioned organizations will continue to play an important role, and we are now considering how the Trinity Metro system serves our population with its buses, vanpools, Trinity Railway Express and TEXRail.

TEXRail is the newest of these, having started operations this past January, as its trains run from DFW Airport Terminal B and the north airport station, through Grapevine and North Richland Hills, and into four locations in Fort Worth. This could help change the face of much of the transportation in our area.

Meanwhile, Trinity Railway Express travels from the Fort Worth T&P Station through Richland Hills to CentrePort, to Irving, to Dallas’ Medical District/Market Center to Union Station in downtown.

We are researching how these resources, as well as access to Uber and Lyft, could play important roles in how our seniors might access healthcare in downtown Fort Worth’s medical district, as well as hospitals throughout northeast Tarrant County. Some of these sources can deliver these patients close to their health care facilities while others may engage the services of a taxi or ride-sharing platform (Uber, Lyft, taxi) for what we call “the last mile” – the ride from the train or bus station to the ultimate destination.

We are considering how shifting trends are emerging. For instance, TEXRail’s initial success from DFW Airport and Grapevine terminals to downtown Fort Worth has resulted in more than 400,000 riders since this past January. Trinity Metro is now looking into the possibility of extending the line to the Fort Worth Medical District.

This access to the medical district would provide Northeast Tarrant County residents with direct access to the many doctors and health care facilities in downtown without the challenges of dealing with highway traffic.

I invite you to join us for the 11th Annual Empowering Seniors Health & Lifestyle Expo this Friday, October 4, at Campus West in Bedford. Listen to some of our interviews throughout the early morning on WBAP 820 AM between 5:00 and 9:00 a.m. With free admission, health screenings seminars and food, this is a day our audience looks forward to all year long.

We hope to see you there!


Event: Empowering Seniors Health & Lifestyle Expo

Admission: Free

Date: Friday, October 4

Time: 8:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Location: Campus West

Address: 205 N. Industrial Blvd., Bedford 76021

Intended audience: Seniors, caregivers, baby boomers

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