As larger numbers of baby boomers hit retirement age, new models to aid older adults to “age in place” are emerging in Colorado. One such program, Colorado Senior Connections (CSC), has developed in Edgewater, Colorado.
Jewish Family Services of Colorado has partnered with the City of Edgewater and other nonprofit organizations to bring services to older adults right in the neighborhoods where they live. Direct services like a wellness clinic, health and exercise classes, recreational activities, support groups, and volunteer opportunities help enhance residents’ quality of life. Having the services nearby is critical, as transportation is often a challenge for older adults. CSC has offices in Edgewater Plaza and an Edgewater Parks & Recreation building.
CSC is a “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community” (NORC). NORCs are communities that were not originally designed for older adults, but have a significant amount of residents over 60 years old. NORCs occur when older adults migrate into a community, the younger population moves out of a community, or residents stay in the area and age in place. About one-third of Edgewater’s population is seniors.
A program advisory committee includes older residents, and empowers them to make decisions about their health and well-being. The committee informs program staff of the type of programs they want, and where there are gaps in services. Because CSC focuses on the strengths of older adults, the program is shifting how support agencies view and value them.. Agencies move away from only providing crisis care and understand how they can build on the services they’re already offering. Recently, a cooking class was introduced to specifically address those cooking for one.
“Social isolation has proven to be a cause of higher rates of death and depression among seniors if they don’t feel connected or valued,” says Cathy Grimm, senior solutions director at Jewish Family Services of Colorado. “In our program, seniors are valued by the strengths they offer versus being viewed as a burden.”
Over time, CSC has learned that older adults want to be involved in civic engagement. They can volunteer in the elementary schools providing literacy tutoring as well as mentor high school students who are at risk of dropping out of school. The City of Edgewater has organized volunteer days for community members to do yard work for older adults. This intergenerational approach has helped to strengthen the community as a whole.
One of the challenges facing organizations that support older adults is finding the community’s more isolated seniors. Often these elders are frail and fear being forced out of their homes. CSC’s objective is to engage older adults while they’re still active. So, if and when an individual needs help later, they’ll know CSC is a resource they can trust.
Rose Community Foundation has provided funding over the years for CSC to find and support the more isolated elders in Edgewater. The Foundation also supports many of the partner organizations in the Edgewater community. Our Aging program area focuses its grantmaking on opportunities and programs that support older adults in living independent and meaningful lives for as long as possible. The Edgewater NORC provides community support for these older adults who wish to age in place.
“Not everyone can stay in their home, but community resources can help them stay there longer. And when the time comes, we can aid in their life transition as well,” says Grimm.