Summit County Human Services Department fine tunes its age-friendly action plan

Staff members recently met with officials from the state and the AARP for a final review

From left to right: Keiva Hummel, program director of the National Civic League; Lorie Williams, manager of the Summit County Community and Senior Center; Erin Fisher, director of Vintage; Mary Kenyon, CEO of Impact Marketing Aspen; and Jarett Hughes, senior policy adviser on aging for Colorado, pose for a photo on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. The team is working on an age-friendly action plan for Summit County.
Photo from the Summit County Community and Senior Center

In 2019, Summit County was designated an AARP Age Friendly Community. Since then, the county’s human services department has been at work developing an age-friendly action plan that will identify what additional services it could offer to the community.

According to its website, the AARP is a nonprofit focused on empowering Americans ages 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. Under the organization’s designation, the county must create and implement an action plan that identifies services and programming that appeals to both older adults and the rest of the community.

Leading the charge is Lorie Williams, manager of the Summit County Community and Senior Center. When the county received its designation in 2019, Williams and her team began working with strategic marketing and graphic design firm Impact Marketing Aspen to create the action plan, but these efforts were largely disrupted by the pandemic.

“We are trying to (integrate) community members with older adults,” she said about the purpose of the action plan. “We don’t want them segregated, and what we find is many programs are segregated into older adults or younger community members. So we’re trying to bring programs together to help the entire community.”

On Wednesday, July 21, the team met with Jarett Hughes, a senior policy adviser on aging for Colorado, as well as representatives of AARP to present their preliminary draft of the action plan. The plan ultimately needs to be approved by AARP, which Williams said works closely with the state. The plan also has to be approved by the Summit Board of County Commissioners before moving forward.

During the meeting, Williams said her team identified four core focus areas that the county plans to zero in on: outdoor spaces and housing, community support and health services, respect and social inclusion, and communication and information.

The action plan breaks down each focus area and identifies each one’s current conditions within the county — the result of previous listening sessions hosted by the county — and provides recommendations for the future while defining what success looks like moving forward.

Williams said the presentation was given to representatives from both the state and AARP, and each entity gave a final review that included highlighting some of the challenges and obstacles for moving forward.

In general, Hughes commended the county’s plan and its efforts to support its aging population.

“Summit County is taking a significant step in the right direction with their age-friendly and livable communities plan,” he said in an email. “Importantly, Summit County leaders have realized that planning to support their older adults — regardless of the age designation you use — ultimately supports Coloradans of all ages. Walkable communities with resting areas are usable for an 80-year-old with a walker and a 29-year-old with a newborn. All ages and all stages — as the plan indicates — is the focus of a livable community.”

Two of the biggest challenges Williams noted during the meeting were the county’s transient culture and the current lack of senior housing within the community.

“Our community is transitional,” Williams said. “…We have a lot of people come and go, so if we go to a different organization and tell them what we’re doing that person could be gone in six months. So it’s like a revolving door. (We need) to keep that communication alive and more permanent to all of our community members, even the ones that are transitional, (so) at least they know what we have. So that was a huge one for me, that communication.

“Housing is always an issue, but we do have the Staying in Summit group. They’ve been working very closely with us on this, and they’re trying to get a facility up here … so that older adults can stay in the community for the rest of their lives if they want to.”

Joan Tilden, who served on one of the committees that developed the plan, said she would like to see a mixed-generational development, similar to the one that Staying in Summit presented to the county last month.

“The takeaway I got from our committee, after listening to everybody about housing, is that maybe we could mix generations instead of just having workforce housing and senior housing,” Tilden said. “We could do it together.”

In June, local nonprofit Staying in Summit presented a senior housing development to the Summit Board of County Commissioners, but it’s unclear if the project will move forward as county officials say they are currently focused on workforce housing needs.

As for next steps, Williams said the goal is to get the action plan officially approved by both AARP and the county. She and her team will then begin recruiting volunteers to help with its implementation.

Williams said there are a few other counties within the state that have an age-friendly action plan. Through these plans, communities have started offering a whole host of activities that appeal to older populations, including lectures, seminars, games and more.

As for how this new programming, and the plan itself, is getting funded, Williams said the county received a grant from the Denver-based NextFifty Initiative. According to the organization’s website, the NextFifty Initiative is a private foundation that “seeks to fund game-changing efforts to improve and sustain the quality of life for people in their second 50 years.”

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