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Communities cater toward growing number of older adults

Tribune News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. – Nearly 20 years after Celebration’s first residents unpacked, Celebration Foundation began to grapple with the fact that some of the community’s earliest members had moved out. The onetime young retirees found a dearth of services for aging adults in their pocket of western Osceola County.

The Thriving in Place village, launched officially in October by Celebration Foundation, was developed in response. Based on a national village model, the idea is to provide an array of small services – such as helping set up a computer or perform chores around the home – for an annual fee for members.

Experts in the aging industry agree that the village model is simply a piece of a bigger picture that illustrates an “age-friendly” community.

AARP has an index on its website to assess how an area fares in terms of livability. By looking at how well it does in categories such as health or housing, a community can better adapt to meet the needs of its residents, AARP said.

The World Health Organization defined eight domains that enable a municipality to be designated age-friendly.

“The messaging also needs to be that everybody is a stakeholder, of every age,” said Kathy Black, a professor at University of South Florida. Black visited Rollins College recently to share what it was like to become age-friendly in Sarasota. “All the businesses and all the organizations, the not-for-profits, everybody is a stakeholder.”

AARP Florida state director Jeff Johnson said that the features that attract boomers to a place are the same as those that attract millennials.

“This is not only the right thing to do, that is making a community right for all ages, but it’s also smart business,” said Johnson.

Industry stakeholders in Florida agree that older adults enrich the places that they live.

“That’s why we don’t call it aging in place; we call it Thriving in Place,” said Gloria Niec, executive director of Celebration Foundation. “Because it really honors all the talents that your life brings to you as you get older.”

The Thriving in Place village is the second member of the national network to serve the Central Florida region. Neighbors Network, operating over two years, works with Winter Park and the surrounding area. A year’s membership for an individual in Neighbors Network costs $375. Similarly, the same membership in Thriving in Place village costs $365. Memberships are also available for households.

“Every village, when you look at the Village to Village Network, every one of them is different,” Niec said. “Because it’s really a grassroots endeavor supported by volunteers to answer the needs in your particular community, so each one is different.”

Annette Kelly, chair of the Neighbors Network Advisory Council said the goal is to collaborate with other like-minded members of the community.

“So we didn’t say Neighbors Network is going to be the be-all and end-all of older adult care or older adult outreach,” she said. “It’s going to be a piece of what happens in this community to make this a great place to grow older.”

Unlike their younger counterparts, adults over 65 spend more in taxes than they get back in services, AARP states. Despite economic inequality among older adults, most people with money to spend are over 50, AARP states.

In Florida, communities interested in being designated age-friendly by WHO can apply through AARP – and Johnson told a recent seminar in Winter Park that every applicant so far has been approved. This year, Sarasota County, Tallahassee and Winter Haven earned the title.

“It’s more aspirational than reflective of past performance,” he said.

Each community seeks to improve in the following areas: “outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, community support and health services,” according to AARP. Communities commit to assessing their goals and plans over two years. The following three years are devoted to implementation and review, AARP states, followed by a continuation of the cycle.

Although there aren’t any WHO-official age-friendly communities in Central Florida, Niec said that Celebration has been excited over the Thriving in Place village. For Niec, such a development is personal.

“This is where we plan on retiring and plan on dying someday,” she said. “And I’m encouraged because it really is transformational for Celebration to be able to know that you’re a senior citizen and that you’ll be able to retire here, because we’ll have that support of the community. So it really it’s transformational for the community.”

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