AARP associate director presents about age-friendly designation

Published 9:00 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2023

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AARP’s associate state director for community engagement talked about the benefits of becoming an age-friendly community during a presentation Tuesday to community leaders working to designate Freeborn County as an age-friendly community. Community leaders will soon send out surveys in their quest for the designation.

Jay Haapala said joining would provide a framework, citing there were around 750 cities and communities across the country that were designated age-friendly. Becoming an age-friendly county would provide a network and gain access to other communities, and those communities can share information.

Most importantly was alignment.

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“If Albert Lea or Freeborn County is joining our network, and you’re also connecting with what’s going on in state government,” he said.

A fourth reason: Access to resources.

And finally, becoming age-friendly was a branding initiative, and said just as calling Albert Lea part of a Blue Zones project had appeal and brought value to the area, so did calling it age-friendly.

He said there were eight domains or features that made an area age-friendly area, and those categories could be grouped into three broader categories: the physical environment, the social environment and the service environment.

Within the physical environment were transportation systems, public places and the housing system.

“What we’re doing in partnership with a lot of our age-friendly communities is developing new model policies that communities can use to influence housing development where they are and with what people need,” he said.

The social environment included social participation and civic participation and employment.

He noted having a place for people to socialize was important, especially coming out of the pandemic and with people tending to be more isolated than before.

The service environment, he said, was where attendees came in with different organizations.

“It’s about community health services that people need,” he said. “People want to stay in their own homes when they need home care and health care at home.”

The process of becoming age-friendly included commitment from local leaders, residents and building a coalition. Once approved, the assessment would be good for five years before the county would be up for re-assessment.

“The way the survey is designed, it’s like a gap analysis,” he said. “We ask people what’s important to you, and then you ask them, ‘Do you have that here’?

“Often what the response is, is ‘Yes, it’s important’ and ‘No, I don’t think we have it.’

“But oftentimes those services are there, but they didn’t know that.”

Based on those assessments, an action plan would be created and implemented before doing evaluation at the end.

“At that point you’re sort of re-authorized for the rest of the five years as an age-friendly community, and at the end of the five years once you submit the evaluation information then you are still an age-friendly community,” he said.

Being an age-friendly area is free, but costs for mailing out the survey and analyzing data could cost something, though he said over one-third of communities participating in age-friendly areas attracted an investment, whether private or public.

Shari Sprague, executive director of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce, said they have applied for grant funding to help with the assessment and she was not looking for funding.

“We’re just looking for the support as far as getting the assessment out once we’re ready to do that,” she said.

She also noted it was important to look out for the older population, saying there was a problem in the way single seniors were supported.

“We really need to find out areas that we’re lacking and make this a stronger community,” she said.

Although she didn’t have a date for getting one out, Sprague hoped to get an assessment out as soon as possible.

John Holt, who attended the presentation, said although many seniors were doing well, there were others hurting and could benefit from the designation.

According to Haapala, most communities choose to start over after completing a five-year cycle.

Currently, there are 17 communities in Minnesota that have been designated as age-friendly by AARP. They include Northfield and Alexandria.