In 1972, Massachusetts Office of Elder Affairs issued a call for grassroots coalitions to support a program to keep elders out of nursing homes. Called “Home Care,” it was one of the nation’s first efforts to create an alternative to the institutional models of caring for the elderly that had prevailed since the poorhouse.


That August, a group of southwest Boston seniors and providers formed the Ad Hoc Coalition for the Elderly. In its first report to the state, it found “meager resources wasted by duplication… and lacking organized means of efficiently referring older people to sources of help.” It was a problem the group decided to take on.

In March, 1973, the Coalition incorporated as Southwest Boston Senior Services – the city’s first, neighborhood-based not-for-profit organization devoted solely to keeping the elderly and disabled at home. One year later, it began operations out of a Roslindale storefront with a staff of four and funding for one elder lunch site and a Meals on Wheels route.

Today, that agency is Ethos, a $45 million organization that promotes the dignity and independence of almost 3,000 elderly and disabled persons. Among its designation, it is a state Aging Services Access Point, the Elder Nutrition Project project for the entire city of Boston, serving more than 2.5 million meals annually, and a Long-Term Care Ombudsman. Despite years of growth, Ethos remains rooted in the principles of care, compassion and community that guided its founders.