The Tompkins County Office for the Aging was awarded a $100,000 grant to develop an age-friendly center of excellence by the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York. The county will partner with local community organizations to fulfill the program’s goals. Other counties that were awarded these types of grants are Erie and Oneida County.
The grant will ensure the Tompkins County Age-Friendly Center of Excellence will become a regional hub of expertise in order to educate and assist other partners and institutions in incorporating age-friendly practices. The Tompkins County Office for the Aging is also participating in the Health Foundation’s Aging by Design program to support its age-friendly initiatives. Lisa Monroe, the executive director of the Tompkins County Office for Aging, said this has been in the works for some time, since 2015 when the county was designated as age-friendly.
“There was a [request for applications] that came out of [New York State Office for Aging] to encourage communities or counties to become age-friendly,” Monroe said. “There were different levels of eligibility, to apply for these grants and since we in Tompkins County were already age-friendly, we were able to apply.”
The centers for excellence came with broad definitions, according to Monroe, who was told the centers were supposed to be cross-partnership, cross-disciplinary and cross-agency with people to provide leadership and support activities with age-friendliness in the county. Other expectations of the new centers are to provide mentorship and leadership to other communities, with a special focus on rural areas that are looking to become age-friendly.
For now, the Office for the Aging is still figuring out how to present their concept to state officials. Since each center for excellence has a different spin on it, Monroe and her team are still receiving guidance on what the expectations are. The Office for the Aging will be using their existing age-friendly center working group to spearhead the work being done. The work on this has yet to get underway, but Monroe indicated that when it does it will first focus on rural livability for seniors.
“A lot of the age-friendly work has mostly been around city or urban livability, accessibility, transportation, sidewalks and housing,” she said. “They’re kind of easier to address in that urban setting but when it comes to many rural municipalities, you can’t compare what’s age-friendly for downtown Ithaca to what’s age-friendly in Caroline. There’s no sidewalks, no hubs of socialization and things like that.”
In order to take on the planning aspect of this initiative, the Office for the Aging is working with Mildred Warner, a member of the Cornell University Architecture, Art, and Planning Department who’s skilled in designing age-friendly buildings, Monroe said. Along with this, Monroe wants to focus on age-friendly ideas that work for residents of all ages, not just seniors. The grant only lasts one year, so she wants to ensure the financial sustainability of any initiatives for the long term.
So far, partners with the Office for the Aging include the Finger Lakes Independence Center, Gadabout, Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County, Ithaca College Gerontology Institute, Wonderful Wheelchairs, Lifelong and Esther Greenhouse, an expert in universal design and aging in place. Though this is still a work in progress, Monroe is ready to take this on.
“We are looking forward to furthering our efforts in Tompkins County, creating a hub of resources and information to those engaged in the Age-Friendly process as well as being part of a larger learning collaborative,” Monroe said. “As the older population expands and lives longer than ever before, this work will be critical to support aging well. We know that when Age-Friendly principles are applied to the environment, individuals can benefit through improved health and overall wellbeing, increased independence and greater social interaction.”