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Selectmen Updated On Age Friendly-Livable Community Efforts



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While Newtown quietly became Connecticut’s second of three current AARP designated Age-Friendly, Livable Communities back in January of 2017, the current Board of Selectmen received their first major presentation on planned program initiatives during a regular meeting September 4.

The comprehensive presentation was provided by John Boccuzzi, Sr, and Ned Simpson, representatives of Friends of Newtown Seniors (FONS), the local grassroots organization that spearheaded the 2016 campaign to receive the AARP designation. Newtown was notified of the designation in early 2017, approximately five weeks after Greenwich, and about 18 months ahead of Glastonbury, according to AARP.

According to the World health Organization (WHO), as noted on friendsofnewtownseniors.org — Age-Friendly Communities are described as having “Affordable and appropriate housing, supportive community services, and adequate mobility options, which facilitate personal independence and the engagement of residents in civic and social life”.

As the presenters stated near the top of their appearance Tuesday, Newtown being an age-friendly community provides a wealth of benefits that accrue to all community members, not just those old enough to qualify for AARP membership. Mr Boccuzzi noted that age-friendly communities contain resources that make communities work well for people of all ages, and especially for older adults.

The network of age-friendly communities focuses on eight domains of livability that helped inform and guide residents and community representatives who turned out for a Livable Community Program on April 28.

Information gathered and analyzed by volunteers after that forum helped shape the goals and suggested ways to meet them that were eventually presented to the Selectmen. The group also included survey data gathered by FONS in 2017 and data collected by a Newtown Commission on Aging general survey done in 2014.

All the information was compiled to produce the beginnings of a plan for addressing the gaps that exist in Newtown. Mr Boccuzzi and Mr Simpson told selectmen that the eight domains, as outlined by WHO and AARP, incorporate issues and concerns for older people and those who serve older people around the world.

As detailed in the presentation, they include:

*Civic Participation Employment — An age-friendly community provides ways older people can, if they choose to, work for pay, volunteer their skills, and be actively engaged in community life.

*Communication Information — Age-friendly communities recognize that not everyone has a smartphone or internet access and that information needs to be disseminated through a variety of means.

*Community Health Services — At some point, everyone gets hurt, becomes ill, or simply needs a bit of help. While it is important that care be available nearby, it is also essential that residents are able to access and afford the services provided.

*Housing — Most older adults want to age in place. Doing so is possible if homes are appropriately designed or modified and if a community includes affordable housing options for varying life stages.

*Outdoor Spaces and Buildings — Parks, sidewalks, safe streets, outdoor seating, and accessible buildings — think elevators, stairs with railings, etc — can be used and enjoyed by people of all ages.

*Respect Social Inclusion — Intergenerational activities are a great way for young and old to learn from one another, honor what each has to offer, and at the same time, feel good about themselves.

*Social Participation — Regardless of one’s age, loneliness negatively affects a person’s health and sense of well-being. Isolation can be alleviated by availability of accessible, affordable, and fun social activities.

*Transportation — Driving should not be the only way to get around. Transportation options should exist that allow all members of the community to move about as needs and desires dictate.

Following the April event, an August work session was conducted to prioritize various issues and complete the final report that was provided to selectmen this week.

A ‘Senior Tsunami’

Mr Boccuzzi said that while every resident of Newtown could enjoy benefits related to the Livable Community initiative, it is the hope of FONS that Newtown can better position itself to address what he called the “senior Tsunami” that the town is projected to experience in the coming decade.

The pair projected a slide that showed the local senior population age 65 and above in 2010 was approximately 3,500 — representing 12.7 percent of the overall population of 27,560. By 2017, the over 65 population had grown to 4,270 or 14 percent of the town’s population.

But by 2025, the FONS statistics predicted the number of residents age 60 and over would represent 33 percent of the projected population of 28,720, with 23 percent of that demographic being over age 65.

Mentioning that representatives of designated livable communities help other towns and cities by sharing information, Mr Boccuzzi said he is constantly in touch with representatives from those communities across the country, primarily by e-mail.

He said the ultimate “value proposition” tied to maintaining a livable community include tangible benefits that include enhancing real estate values, improving the “emotional” view of the community and its various public activities, improved health of community members, and an improved market for professionals and businesses.

That return on investment does not come without assistance, however, and so it led Mr Simpson and Mr Boccuzzi to detail “the ask.”

The pair made several general requests to the selectmen and to First Selectman Dan Rosenthal specifically. They were requests for help facilitating access to town staff, commissions, and data, and for officials to take seniors’ needs and capabilities into consideration in the development of various plans and actions.

They also requested recognition of the need for funding more senior-related initiatives during the annual budget development process, which will begin for Mr Rosenthal in a matter of weeks for the 2019-20 cycle.

The FONS spokesmen also hope that input from seniors will be willingly accepted and factored into the ongoing municipal Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) and that officials will work harder to cultivate an environment for open and innovative discussion on any matters related to the local senior population.

In closing their ask, Mr Rosenthal said he could hear the voice of Mr Boccuzzi as he read the final point: “Focus on ‘We can, if...’ — not, ‘we cannot, because.’”

Dozens Of Objectives

Returning to the eight domains, Mr Simpson said the April workshop ended up producing 136 objectives the FONS and other involved officials identified for the presentation. Those engaging major consensus included developing a communications strategy so seniors could communicate among themselves.

There was also interest in developing possible chore services; an affordable living initiative; transportation services, including the possible acquisition of additional vehicles like a bus; greater availability and access to medical and health services; and a way for more seniors to learn about and possibly secure income producing endeavors.

Regarding staying connected, Mr Simpson asked selectmen to think about a centralized list or directory of seniors’ e-mails and phone numbers, a one-stop local number seniors can call for town services and opportunities, and enhancing programs to reach out to — and provide added services for — the home bound.

Mr Boccuzzi acknowledged that a number of solutions to issues that came up were already in place or under development. Mr Simpson said one of the concerns involved more interactive communication between seniors and the school superintendent.

He said a preliminary meeting is in the process of being finalized between FONS members and Dr Lorrie Rodrigue.

There is also a plan developing to provide sponsored training for emergency responders who may encounter individuals with dementia, and Mr Boccuzzi said he recently learned about a system in Southbury called “RUOK,” where each day, a phone call is placed to vulnerable seniors with an in-person response by police if the recipient fails to answer.

He suggested Newtown explore such a program, along with the possible reactivation of a Newtown-based Habitat for Humanity program, which would engage to help seniors and others with home maintenance and necessary repairs that might be jeopardizing individuals’ hopes to age in place.

Upon the conclusion, Mr Rosenthal and Selectmen Jeff Capeci and Maureen Crick Owen all indicated their general support for the initiatives presented.

The first selectman said he would help facilitate connections to town staff, commissions, and data for the group.

“You’ve certainly shown the ability to push the ball forward,” Mr Rosenthal said of the initiative. He advised that for larger capital expenditures tied to certain priorities in the presentation, FONS should plan to work with and put emphasis on items already in the CIP for other departments, like Parks & Recreation.

Mr Boccuzzi agreed and admitted, “We see this as a long-term process,” adding, “this kind of support is exactly what we need to hear at this point from the BOS.”

A Wellness Park is among the AARP “Livable Community” features in Sidney, British Columbia. The Friends of Newtown Seniors (FONS) provided input to the Board of Selectmen, September 4, detailing a number of initiatives being called for as Newtown develops and strengthens its status as the second of three current Connecticut AARP Age-Friendly, Livable Communities. —photo courtesy AARP
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