Trailblazer Awards

The Village Chicago Annual Trailblazer Awards

We believe in a world where everyone can live their best life. To build that world will take strength, creativity, and commitment. The Village Chicago works toward this goal every day and places a high value on recognizing and learning from the wisdom and example of others. We call them Trailblazers.

The annual Trailblazer Awards recognize individuals, authors, and organizations who have shown outstanding leadership in building a fully age-integrated, inclusive society where everyone’s strengths are appreciated, respected, and utilized.

2022 Recipients

Individual: Whenever Dr. Neelum T. Aggarwal found a way to improve health and wellbeing, she did so, serving in an astounding number of leadership positions throughout her career. As a cognitive neurologist, clinical trialist, and researcher, she is a long-standing voice for the participation of underrepresented groups in community-based research, clinical trials, and public health initiatives.

She is a natural-born teacher who advocates for and mentors medical students, young physicians, and researchers in her roles as Professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences, Rush Medical College and the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center; Director of Research at the Rush Heart Center for Women; and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the American Medical Women’s Association.

She cares deeply about people and how to use advancements in medicine to improve lives. This is reflected in her work to amplify the doctor/patient relationship, beginning with the family and continuing into the community through networks of engagement and empowerment. Her considerable energy is always positive, focusing on prevention and preservation, fortified with knowledge about how to live our best lives.

Organization: Just as pioneering social worker Jane Addams (1860-1935) influenced social movements across the U.S, so does the work of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus (JASC). Founded by Ruth Shriman in 1976 to ensure that the voices of older adults would be heard, this multi-racial grassroots organization has made important contributions on issues that affect society at large—affordable housing, retirement security, voter registration, and more.

The recent “Senior Safety Ordinance” in Chicago is one example of JASC’s work. The legislation was written by JASC members in collaboration with others, including Alderwoman Maria Hadden of the 49th Ward. Another example is the Tenant Organizing Center. JASC staff and older adult leaders provide technical and logistical assistance to train and empower tenants living in senior housing.

JASC’s mission “envisions a world where all seniors can age with dignity and safety, free of ageism, racism, and other forms of oppression.” And its methods are based on community organizing—crossing neighborhood, racial, religious, generational, and socio-economic lines to find common ground. Surely, the Jane Addams Senior Caucus is a legacy of which Jane Addams would be proud, and it’s an organization that is contributing to the wellbeing of us all.

Author: Dr. Becca Levy has helped transform our understanding of the aging process through her ground-breaking book, Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live (William Morrow, 2022). Levy does a brilliant job debunking stereotypes and myths about aging that will shock and delight you.

Through more than two decades of research as Professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health and Professor of Psychology at Yale University, Dr. Levy and her team have demonstrated that health problems attributed solely to the aging process such as hearing loss, memory loss, and cardiovascular events are in fact influenced by the negative age stereotypes and self-perceptions so dominant in our culture. The central message of these trailblazing studies is one of optimism: damaging ideas about age are malleable and can change with the potential to add an average of 7 1/2 years to the lifespan.

Her path-breaking research has received awards from the American Psychological Association, the Gerontological Society of America, and the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics, and also played a key role in the World Health Organization Campaign to Combat Ageism.

2021 Recipients

Individual: By deed and example, Tom Kuczmarski has shown that innovation and creativity are for everyone. At age 50, he co-founded Chicago Innovation, which has grown into a multifaceted innovation ecosystem focused on education, connection, and celebration. He serves on the board of RRF Foundation for Aging and with The Village Chicago, he co- founded Ageless Innovators, Chicago’s first cross-generational, co-mentoring program.

Organization: Town Hall Apartments is a life-changing, pioneering initiative – the first affordable LGBTQ+-friendly senior housing in Chicago. Built in collaboration with Heartland Alliance and Center on Halsted, it directly addresses the housing discrimination and isolation issues that face Chicago’s more than 50,000 LGBTQ+ seniors.

Author: Ashton Applewhite’s deeply researched book, This Chair Rocks – A Manifesto Against Ageism, has helped catalyze a global movement to recognize and eliminate age discrimination. Applewhite has been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, the New Yorker, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism. She speaks widely, and her TED Talk, “Let’s End Ageism” appears on journalism site Stacker’s list of 50 essential civil rights speeches.

2020 Recipients

Individual: Ruth Ann Watkins is Board Chair of the RRF Foundation for Aging and Founding Member, Board Member, and past President of the Village Chicago. Through her work at RRF, and a long and distinguished career at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, she has been a lifelong advocate for vibrant, age-integrated communities and the wellbeing of older adults.

Organization: Next Avenue is PBS’s highly successful Internet journalism service for America’s booming older population. A major contribution is their annual recognition of 50 “Influencers in Aging,” elevating the profiles of important advocates, researchers, thought leaders, and innovators who change the understanding of what it means to grow older.

Author: Louise Aronson, MD MFA, is a leading geriatrician, writer, medical humanist, and professor of medicine at UCSF. She is the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, and Reimagining Life. She recognized elderhood as a significant life stage that is often longer than childhood.