Many things get better with age: a fine wine or an artisanal, aged cheese. But what about life itself, especially for those aging in our own community? Nobody can deny the hard work that our county’s seniors and aging residents have contributed to the success of our community. That is why it is so difficult for many of us to see the struggle it often is for our aging residents to live flourishing lives, whether that be a senior neighbor, a mentor at a place of worship, or even a close relative.
I have long believed that our county had more to offer those who have already given so much to our community, and that is why I am so pleased with St. Joseph County’s recent efforts to make our neighborhoods more age friendly.
Last year I was fortunate to attend a meeting in Plymouth hosted by the Michiana Area Council of Governments. Two of the presenters, Addison Pollock and Mandla Moyo, represented AARP and spoke on their organization’s Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. According to the latest U.S. Census Data, 14.7% of our county’s population is 65 years old and above and getting older. The time has come for our leadership to make the commitment to working towards a St. Joseph County that is inclusive and is respectful of residents of all ages.
Being part of the AARP network signifies a commitment of our county’s leadership to encourage diverse engagement of its citizens to analyze the needs in our community and then work in concert with local agencies and citizens to improve the quality of life for our residents, regardless of age. This network will also allow us to tap into national and global research, planning models, better practices and grant opportunities. Ultimately, this will allow us to be a location of choice for citizens of all ages as we provide the tools necessary for our aging population to live full and happy lives.
As county commissioner, I was proud to bring this initiative to our monthly department-head meetings and even happier when several department heads decided to join me on a steering committee for this initiative. Together, we were able to host a community meeting where representatives from AARP presented this program to more than 50 community leaders who were excited to see the county begin to take positive steps toward improving the lives for so many of our citizens.
I was even more proud when my fellow commissioners joined me in passing a resolution committing St. Joseph County to work toward joining AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. We are the first county in Indiana to pass such a resolution and make this commitment. This first step now allows the steering committee to select subcommittee co-chairs and work toward completion of the initial application to join the AARP’s network.
As people live healthier, more active and longer lives, communities must adapt. Passing this resolution, while important, is just the first step.
The real work to improve our community is just beginning, and I encourage all residents of St. Joseph County to join me in imagining our community as “age-friendly,” and then actively engaging in doing the hard work to improve the lives for people of all ages.
Michiana Viewpoint by Commissioner Deborah Fleming, DMD, published by the South Bend Tribune on December 12, 2019