Developing the Age Friendly Berkshires Action Plan
After joining the AARP Livable Communities Network in 2015, the partner organizations began a 2+ year planning phase. The group undertook a region-wide assessment, garnered political commitment, organized focus groups and established a citizen-advisory committee of “active agers.” Given the region’s size and complexity, a variety of outreach methods were employed to gather public input. The difficulty of drafting a plan that covered 32 separate municipalities that are not connected by a county governmental structure, nor homogeneous in socioeconomic terms, soon became apparent.
An Age Friendly Berkshires Survey was distributed electronically, by mail and in paper form, through many community organizations throughout the county, during 2015. (Download here: AgeFriendlySurvey2015) Three Aging-in-Place Forums were held in 2016, covering the north, middle and southern municipalities. All together, over 2500 responses were received.
In addition, in late 2016, eight subject-matter experts were hired to conduct strategic interviews with key stakeholders and to produce the first draft of the plan framework in their area of expertise. The DRAFT ACTION PLAN was then assembled by Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, and provided to the Age Friendly Berkshires Steering Committee, Partner Organizations and the Active Agers’ Advisory Council for feedback and final adoption.
Action Plan Over-Arching Goals
- Identify and integrate best practices from across the U.S.
- Design new policies, systems or environmental changes with the goal of greater equity, respect and inclusiveness for all Berkshire residents
- Determine evaluation measurements for 8 Areas of Livability and monitor progress continuously
- Concentrate on policy, systems, program and environmental changes as much as possible.
- Develop a corps of Age Friendly Allies – including residents from all 32 municipalities
- Gain commitment from Age Friendly Berkshires partners to implement age-friendly initiatives in their own work
- Encourage the passage of municipal Age Friendly Resolutions in all 32 municipalities
Civic Participation & Employment
- Increase the number of older adults who participate as volunteers on local municipal, community boards and commissions.
- Increase opportunities for active participation in civic affairs.
- Increase employer awareness of the benefits of employing older adults.
- Recognize and promote area employers who recruit/hire older adult workers and provide innovative scheduling options to accommodate same
- Increase training opportunities for older adults to develop skills necessary to meet the needs of a dynamic workforce.
- Facilitate opportunity for entrepreneurship and mentoring programs.
- Increase opportunities for financial planning programs to encourage older workers to plan for retirement
- Strengthen outreach efforts to potential volunteers, including organizing information about volunteer opportunities in one location.
- Facilitate the use of volunteers in county organizations by offering training and support to both potential organizations/managers and potential volunteers.
- Expand senior tax deferral and work-off programs, and/or consider creating a tax relief fund to help the neediest low-income or disabled seniors to reduce burden of real estate taxes on a primary residence
Communication & Information
- Maximize the dissemination of necessary and useful information to all Berkshire residents regardless of their location, age, economic status, technical expertise or physical limitation, using a variety of methods.
- Develop an all-encompassing, ongoing program of information about the importance Age Friendly Berkshires for all county residents and organizations
- Develop a county wide “senior voice” of, for and by the growing population of older adults and encourage them to be actively involved advocates in their community.
- Evaluate existing municipal-level communication methods, with an eye toward innovating, standardizing and streamlining communication to residents.
Community & Health Services
- Improve access to healthcare resources through targeted communication through a variety of media
- Development of a catalog or other compilation of available community resources
- Raising awareness among social service and health providers about existing services
- Identifying and addressing gaps in the social service and health provider network.
Identify and address health inequities and reduce health disparities.
- Increase health literacy.
Address the social determinants of health.
- Develop expertise among providers of all types in successfully engaging with older adults.
- Work toward a more holistic quality of life for all – not simply the absence of illness or disability.
- Develop capacity to address Age-Friendly housing needs throughout the County, including identifying public and private sector providers
- Inventory and map existing housing resources and collect municipal and state regulations related to housing, to identify resources and gaps.
- Make information and assistance available to consumers about how older adults can age-in-place, including home assessments, workshops and guidance on website.
- Assist municipalities in addressing local housing issues.
- Help expand the range of housing options that are available and affordable for seniors at varying income levels, including multi-generational neighborhoods, shared living arrangements, and other alternatives, as desired.
- Encourage solutions to ease the transition to alternative housing arrangements, including the use of a centralized application for affordable housing, relocation facilitators and etc.
Outdoor Spaces & Buildings
- Create and/or maintain accessible spaces to ensure that residents of all ages and abilities can use and enjoy public spaces, whether they are indoors or outdoors.
- Market and promote opportunities to encourage residents of all ages and abilities to use public spaces.
- Work to create/maintain safe places, including parks, open spaces and public buildings.
- Work to create/maintain spaces that are multigenerational and inclusive for all users.
- Encourage the use of joint use agreements allowing community groups to use municipal and school buildings.
- Promote Complete Streets solutions (i.e., those designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities) whenever possible.
Respect & Social Inclusion
- Create an inclusive community where people of all ages and abilities participate in social, civic, and economic life.
Develop social programs to increase respect and inclusion between persons of different backgrounds, generations or abilities.
- Encourage and facilitate an inter-generational mentoring program in Berkshire County.
- Ensure that programs developed for older adults are intergenerational when appropriate and that segregation based on age or other factor, is not practiced inadvertently.
- Develop self-sustaining networks of residents based on common interests or within a geographic area.
- Enlist those in need to become engaged by helping others.
- Create opportunities for socialization and strive to eliminate barriers to participation (transportation, cost, etc.).
- Organize regional and long distance activities for group engagement, as well as bringing programs to Councils on Aging, community centers, faith-based organizations, civic organizations and places where older adults might already congregate.
- Promote local arts, music and other cultural and academic programs and build bridges to engage seniors as both volunteers and consumers.
- Reach out personally to engage residents of all needs and abilities.
- Build intergenerational networks.
- Explore innovative transportation models to allow older adults to continue to engage socially on weekends and evenings.
- Maximize access to user-friendly transportation services to meet daily living, health and socialization needs, through ways that are safe, effective, affordable, and respectful to each person served.
- Ensure residents are fully aware of existing transportation options. Identify barriers to use and facilitate solutions.
- Expand transportation options in innovative ways to address gaps in the existing system
- Encourage alternatives to travel through the use of on-line shopping, delivery services, etc.
- Keep older adults using their personal vehicles safely for as long as possible, through driver education and infrastructure improvements.
- Improve and develop infrastructure to encourage walking and biking as transportation.
- Encourage the use of Complete Streets solutions where appropriate.