Women of Industry: Beatty redefined senior services

Christine Beatty was very surprised to learn of her most recent honor. Her sneaky staff definitely had something to do with her nomination because they were eager to tell a story that needed to be told about how Beatty, senior center and senior services director for the Madison Senior Center, has impacted senior social services here and elsewhere.

For her nearly 40 years of helping elderly Americans live more fulfilling lives, Beatty was selected as the Legacy winner in this year’s Women of Industry award program, joining past winners such as branding pioneer Marsha Lindsay and financial services trailblazer Better Custer Harris.

The mission statement of the Madison Senior Center really captures her legacy of involving older adults as leaders, teachers, and learners, and providing balanced, diverse, and coordinated programs that act as an ideal model for aging. Thanks to Beatty, it has become a national model that has its roots in Madison, as the Madison Senior Center bases all programs on three tenets: avoiding disease and disability, stimulating cognitive and physical well-being, and engaging in life.

Through Beatty’s leadership, this model has been extended to all agencies that receive city funding. “That’s actually in the mission statement of the Madison Senior Center, and it very well articulates what senior centers around the country are trying to do in terms of supporting older adults in the latter years of life,” she notes. “Before we get to the fragile era in anyone’s life, we want older adults to be engaged in our community and be active, and indeed they are.

“I’ve taken that mission of the senior center to heart in terms of engaging older people, not only in the decision-making of the Madison Senior Center but also in my efforts to ensure they are a part of this equation when we talk about community service.”

Senior, engage thyself

“I was so pleased that In Business magazine considers nonprofits and people in the social services field to be a part of the industry. The idea that I could be chosen in this capacity was a surprise but also quite an honor because I know that here in Madison we have so many remarkable leaders who are women. I’m delighted.” — Christine Beatty, senior center and senior services director, Madison Senior Center

When Beatty set out on this professional direction 40 years ago, the perception of older adults and their quality of life was much different, but before she could change minds in the general public, she first had to convince the elderly themselves that they had more to offer. Despite a host of stereotypes that seniors themselves once bought into, it’s now rare to see a retired person who is idling away, glued to a rocking chair.

Toward that end, the Madison Senior Center has taken it upon itself to include older adults in its decision-making. Beatty believes such leadership roles have to be given to older people because they’ve earned it and because they have so much experience and skill to offer. “If you ask them about what they intend to do in retirement, it’s very clear that they have certain roles in mind and that they have a plan to contribute to their community as a volunteer or with their faith group,” Beatty says. “I love to see that. Part of my legacy has really been flipping the coin on how we see older people. Instead of seeing them as a drain on our society, we need to see them as a resource in our community.

“That’s the biggest difference that I’ve seen.”

The approach is part of a national accreditation for American senior centers that Beatty has been involved in developing. Of all the groundbreaking initiatives she’s had a hand in — changing mindsets, getting seniors more involved in their community, and raising awareness of and improving services for LGBT seniors among them — she is most proud of national senior center accreditation. Beatty is acknowledged as one of four individuals who developed national senior center accreditation, and she became a National Institute of Senior Centers trainer and peer reviewer. She believes senior centers have a very bad rap, and some assume they have an old (no pun intended), even archaic model, but that’s not what Beatty sees at the national level.

“Senior centers have reinvented themselves, and being involved in the effort to create a national accreditation and standards that went along with that process, I feel really good that it got senior centers to start looking at how they operate, how they could or should be operating, and to do a review of their operations,” she states. “It’s essentially a quality-improvement model where we want to constantly be looking at our operation and improving it.”

At their best, senior centers are very active and engaging places. The better ones provide an opportunity for older people to learn things in a supportive environment, and Madison Senior Center has people who come to learn modern dance with a professional instructor or learn how to paint artistically. In turn, seniors have learned to constantly challenge the stereotype of aging and, much like senior center facilities themselves, people can “re-invent themselves while aging,” Beatty notes.



Coming to Madison

Beatty also has done some personal reinvention as she forged a career in senior social services. Before coming to Madison with her husband, who was finishing his PhD dissertation at UW–Madison, she began as a high school teacher. Beatty launched her career in senior services in 1977, the year the retired senior volunteer program opened. Having to pivot and reinvent herself in a new field, she dug right in.

She organized and led the Driver Escort program, which has since grown to a countywide transportation network of 300 senior volunteer drivers in 27 communities, and that led her to the role of executive director/CEO of the East Madison/Monona Senior Coalition, a nonprofit organization providing older adults services such as nutrition, transportation, and case management.

In 1988, Beatty became the director of the Madison Senior Center, where she began to reshape the mission of senior centers. A career of innovation in senior social services culminated in Beatty creating the Madison Senior Center Foundation Inc., a 501(c)(3), to provide programs and activities for seniors that now holds a corpus of more than $500,000. “Over time, I have been privileged to meet some of Madison’s most outstanding leaders,” she states. “What a wonderful thing to have a career where you get to meet and know the people who built this community. That’s pretty exciting stuff, I’d say.”

Read the rest of our 2017 Women of Industry features:

  • Teri Bruns, vice president of global partner solutions for VMware
  • Deborah Gilpin, president and CEO, Madison Children's Museum

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