Iona’s story begins in 1975 in a clapboard house on Butterworth Place in the Tenleytown neighborhood in Northwest Washington.
The house took on a new life as the home of a program created to provide social services to people in the surrounding neighborhoods. Named “Iona House” after a tiny Scottish island known for its dedication to fellowship and service, the program would eventually emerge as a force in the community that has benefited tens of thousands of older adults and caregivers in Washington, DC and beyond for more than 40 years.
The birth of Iona stemmed from a growing number of questions to neighborhood churches on medical care, public services, and other social assistance. To improve their ability to handle such requests, several faith communities joined forces to establish a community service center. Staffed by enthusiastic volunteers and parish members, the center began offering information and referral services to all visitors, both old and young, as well as a few recreational classes. Less than a year later – and countless calls concerning older adults in the community – Iona took notice and shifted its role to focus primarily on aging services.
Expanding Our Reach
Those early founders could not have imagined the leadership role Iona would eventually come to play in modeling best practices in aging services and in advocacy for older people for the entire metropolitan region. The definition of Iona’s community first began to grow beyond the Tenleytown neighborhood in 1982, when Iona was named a lead agency with the DC Office on Aging. This recognition and grant helped to build robust mid-day lunch programs, an adult day health program, and a best-practices case management and counseling program throughout Northwest Washington that added to Iona’s already vibrant cultural, arts, and wellness activities. Additionally, as Iona expanded beyond its Butterworth Place home, the name Iona House was changed to Iona Senior Services to reflect Iona’s widespread community presence.
In April 1997, Iona moved to its current location in the Isabella Breckinridge Community Center on Albemarle Street NW. Our mission of supporting older adults and caregivers through the opportunities and challenges of aging, however, remains the same. Today, our compassionate team continues to anticipate and respond to the fast-changing landscape of our community, as needs become more and more complex. More than ever, Iona has become a safety-net provider — addressing the needs of isolated older adults, those who rely on Iona because they have no family, live on very limited incomes, are struggling to find affordable housing or, without Iona’s support, would not know where their next meal is coming from. During vulnerable times and family crises, our community can lean upon Iona. At the same time, we also work hard to help people avoid the need for these intensive services through our educational advance-planning program, designed with the specific needs of the growing Baby Boomer population in mind.
Another important aspect of our work is promoting positive aging through the arts. We offer hands-on art workshops to the public and art therapy for our adult day health service participants to encourage creative expression and engagement. Our Lois and Richard England Gallery at Iona also regularly features artworks by local, vibrant artists age 60+ as a way to showcase how our community members age well and live well.
Over the years, Iona has supported a community that celebrates, values, respects, and protects the contributions and possibilities of every individual. Today, that support is more critical than ever as people live longer and face more complex challenges.
Iona supports people as they experience the challenges and opportunities of aging. We educate, advocate, and provide community-based services to help people age well and live well.