Jul 30, 2017
by David Abbott
Thanks to a collaborative effort between several local agencies, in 2016 Sonoma County was accepted into the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Network of Age-Friendly Communities (GNAFC), one of 175 communities in the growing Age-Friendly Network in the U.S.
Sonoma County Council on Aging, working in collaboration with Sonoma County Human Services/Adult and Aging and Public Health, has taken a lead role in the implementation of the initiative.
“An Age-Friendly community is a livable community for all ages,” Age-Friendly Community Coordinator Renee Tolliver said.“It’s a great place to grow up and a great place to grow old.”
The GNAFC requires a five-year commitment, including two years of planning, with implementation from years three to five. After five years, the program evaluates its progress and begins the cycle again – a process aimed at continual improvement in areas found to be lacking.
The current study phase is focused on existing conditions in Sonoma County’s nine cities and non-incorporated communities for their age-friendliness and livability. There are nine areas – domains – of focus including:
• Community connectedness, respect and social inclusion;
• Varied housing options;
• Outdoor spaces and buildings;
• Employment, civic participation and financial security;
• Health- and community-based social services;
• Healthy living;
• Lifelong learning; and,
• Communication and information.
Documenting the availability, accessibility, and affordability of opportunities in these areas will be central to planning an Age-Friendly Sonoma County.
Council on Aging has convened a steering committee comprised of local, grassroots volunteers that are reaching out to the County’s residents to find out what needs to be done through the Age-Friendly Sonoma County Community Conversations and Needs Assessment.
“The steering committee has representatives from all over the county, which makes it a great resource from many perspectives,” steering committee member and former director of the Russian River Senior Resource Center, Diane Spain, said. “Although most of the committee represents cities, I really wanted to make sure that unincorporated areas were included. We don’t have a city council to go to but we share many challenges.”
There are several existing countywide needs assessments that are conducted regularly, notably the federally mandated Area Agency on Aging (AAA)Survey, and the community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). These surveys focus on human services and health conditions and care needs.
The Community Conversations and Needs Assessment will expand upon these surveys, identify strengths and gaps in age friendly conditions, and capture residents’ views about their potential for aging in community. The process will also seek their insights about addressing communities’ livability for the aging population.
“It’s important for people to understand that we just want to identify issues: We are not a group who can fix the problems,” Spain said.“That will be part of the next phase.”
When the assessment process is complete, an action plan will be developed from its findings. The action plan will be submitted to AARP, which acts on behalf of the WHO for age friendly/livable communities in the U.S. Once that plan is approved, the implementation phase will begin.
“By participating in this process, the County of Sonoma has agreed to continued work in creating livable communities for all residents across their lifespan,” Tolliver said.“It’s a grassroots effort involving local volunteers of all ages and backgrounds from throughout the County.”
In its 2016 Area Plan and Community Report, the Sonoma County Area Agency on Aging estimates that by 2030, 28 percent of the county population will be aged 60 or older and by 2050, 22 percent of the global population will be senior citizens.
“The changing demographics and livability preferences will affect so many aspects of daily living,” Tolliver said. “We’ll be looking at housing, transportation, human services, business, recreation, education, healthcare. The WHO model calls on locals to imagine new possibilities for their communities.”
Cities are invited to participate to any extent that they choose, up to and including seeking Age-Friendly City designation. Resources are available at no cost through the Age-Friendly Sonoma County Coordinator, as well AARP,
Becoming an age friendly/livable community means that, “We stop making assumptions based on age or accepting attitudes and practices that are outdated,”Tolliver said.“Let’s age in communities where everyone can be active and engaged for as long as possible.”
You can help make your community a great place to grow up and a great place to grow old. Are you 50 years old or better? Go to http://sgiz.mobi/s3/Age-Friendly-Sonoma-County-English for a survey about your experience living and aging in Sonoma County to help Age-Friendly.
Anyone interested in participating can go to the website at www.agefriendlysonomacounty.org for more information, or contact Age Friendly Community Coordinator Renee Tolliver at 525-0143 ext. 124 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the things that I think is great is that we view aging as something positive. We all have challenges but a positive, healthy aging theme is really important.
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