County board considers ‘age-friendly’ designation

Published 9:00 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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Chamber proposes driving the effort through AARP

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners is considering a resolution supporting efforts to become designated as an Age-Friendly Community through AARP.

Shari Sprague

Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shari Sprague brought the resolution to the commissioners two weeks ago at the board meeting and explained further about the initiative on Tuesday during the board’s workshop.

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Sprague said in 2021, 22.8% of residents in Freeborn County were 65 or older, and those numbers are increasing.

The designation focuses on what she described as Eight Domains of Livability, which include outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, work and civic engagement, communication and information, and community and health services.

Sprague said while focusing on the domains would help seniors, it would also help all residents in the county.

“We just want another draw for people to move to Freeborn County,” she said.

Enrolling into the network consists of an application, a proclamation and resolution. After that, a survey would be sent to seniors all over the county to find out where the county is lacking in the eight domains.

From there, she and other community partners create an action plan based on the survey results and then implement the plan.

Sprague said receiving the designation will open the community up to resources through AARP and possible grant funding for initiatives. She said it will not cost the county anything simply to receive the designation.

The chamber is the driver of the initiative but would work with other local partners, including Senior Resources and the Albert Lea Senior Center, local governments, volunteers and organizations, among others.

If they ask the county for funding to support an effort, the board will have the chance to approve any financial obligation at that time.

Sprague said there are already so many things happening for seniors in the community, that the designation just seemed like the logical next step.

She referenced other programs already in place, including Memory Cafe twice a month, for residents with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers, and Tech Tuesdays, where seniors can learn more about how to use various technologies. Senior Resources and the Senior Center also have programs, and she noted that the initiative would seek to avoid duplicating services.

First District Commissioner Brad Edwin asked Sprague what would happen if the survey finds out there is a need for more transportation for seniors.

Sprague said the group woould come up with solutions and then apply for grant funding to make it a reality.

She said there would be a designated person from the chamber to oversee the effort.

Freeborn County Public Health Director Sue Yost said the county is required to do a community health assessment, and some of the recent assessments in the last decade have found that mental health is a major concern.She said there are many seniors who feel isolated, and she said she thought the new effort would enhance the work already being done.

Department of Human Services Director Susie Nerison asked if there had been any discussion with other communities who have gone through the designation about what the commitment has meant for them long-term.

Second District Commissioner Dawn Kaasa said she was concerned that after approving the letter of support for the effort that the county would be on the hook for funding for projects tied to is.

Sprague said the group would not apply for a grant with matching funds if it doesn’t have the means to support it.