Conference Highlights Successes in Age-Friendly Movement

Posted on September 20, 2020

Partnership. Collaboration. Network. Team.

These are the words that pepper conversations about the age-friendly movement expanding across New Jersey – and around the globe.

These were also words that filled the first session of Advancing Age-Friendly Communities NJ: New Relevance Conference, a free, four-part virtual webinar sponsored by The Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation and Grotta Fund for Senior Care.

The conference held via Zoom was intended in part to share the experiences of veteran age-friendly organization leaders with local officials and community stakeholders in New Jersey who see value in launching or expanding such initiatives in their own communities.

Session 1 of the webinar, dubbed “Age-Friendly in Action,” featured presentations from leaders of organizations in Arizona and the Midwest that were early adopters of age-friendly communities initiatives.

“The important thing is to get everybody on board and be really inclusive,” advised Amy St. Peter, deputy executive director of the Maricopa Association of Governments, which serves the Greater Phoenix region.

Looking for partners in “unlikely places” is a good way to overcome the negative views of aging that are pervasive in our culture, as well as the tendency to view older adults as “a problem” in the community rather than as a useful reservoir of wisdom and skillsets, St. Peter said.

Another advantage of creating wide-ranging partnerships is that doing so can help ensure age-friendly community organizations “really localize themselves in a way that is important to them and their culture,” said Cathy Boyer-Shesol, project manager from KC Communities for All Ages, which is part of the Mid-America Regional Council.

The partnerships formed in age-friendly communities also help a community be responsive to new challenges as they arise, said Christine Newman, director of community outreach and volunteer engagement for AARP New Jersey.

In an AARP survey of age-friendly leaders across the country, 46 percent of respondents listed “partnerships with diverse organizations” as the “most helpful” element that their age-friendly work brought to COVID-19 community response efforts, Newman said.

The Advancing Age-Friendly Communities webinar session on Sept. 15 also featured presentations from several New Jersey age-friendly community leaders.

Katie York from Lifelong Montclair described several of the arts and extended learning programs the organization created through partnerships with other community organizations. Cathy Rowe of SOMA, Two Towns for All Ages, described new programs that gave older adults opportunities to volunteer in the community and to have volunteers help with things that had become challenging for older adults, such as home repairs. Jackie Kates of Age-Friendly Teaneck shared ways in which that organization was making inroads with municipal governing leaders on key issues such as pedestrian safety and affordable housing.

All of those local leaders also gave examples of how their efforts have taken on “new relevance” during the pandemic.

Dr. Emily Greenfield, a professor of social work at Rutgers University who researches and writes about the progress of age-friendly community initiatives, described the presentations by the local leaders as a “historical moment” for the movement in New Jersey.

“Even just five years ago, these presentations would not have existed because this work was not as developed as it is,” Greenfield said. “So for everybody who is coming to this conference because they are just starting on their age-friendly journeys, or for those who have been at it for a while now, I think there are many things to continue to learn from each other and to accelerate the pace of change by working smarter not harder.”

A recording of the first session is posted on You Tube.

Here are the details of the next session of the conference. Click Here to register.