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Scannelli column: Age-friendly communities

My dad has reached his 80s and still drives, although perhaps not as confidently. Every time he has to drive somewhere, he thinks about the best times for low traffic volume, how to reach his destination making only right turns, parking options, and walking distance to the door from wherever he has to park. These are daily decisions I don’t recall him considering before. And while he retired long ago, he still has so much to offer — a wealth of experience and skills and loves a project and a purpose. Sound familiar?

A columnist recently wrote about how we are raised to prepare for everything — tests, marriage, children, careers, retirement income, estate disposition, and even major storms and other natural disasters. But how well do we plan for the changes that come with age? What follows retirement? Is it gratifying to golf every day for 10 or more years? Do you have the finances to travel every month for years and years? Would you really want to? What happens to our daily routines and activities when it becomes difficult to walk or breathe with ease? Perhaps you’ve personally experienced physical changes or see changes in a family member. So how do we better plan and how can our communities help to make aging adjustments easier, more honoring, less life-narrowing, and with opportunities to contribute and remain active?

Forsyth County has an initiative called Age-Friendly Forsyth, designed to ensure that Forsyth County provides very livable and affordable communities for our aging population. This is not a new concept. Conversations around aging-in-place started nationally more than 10 years ago as organizations started considering the sheer size of the Baby Boomer population moving into retirement. AARP defines the term Age-Friendly Communities as communities that adopt features such as walkable streets, better housing and transportation options, access to key services, and opportunities for residents to participate in community activities.  Grantmakers in Aging calls it “a movement to create great places to grow up and grow old.” Aging is a stage of life and the best communities consider how to adapt to and benefit from the fast-growing number of older adults.   

The Clemmons Community Foundation provided a small grant to Forsyth Futures to ensure that the Age-Friendly Forsyth initiative represented needs and interests of our Clemmons and Lewisville area citizens. Through the grant, local liaisons have been named and are now hosting focus groups (discussion groups) in both communities for residents aged 60 and older or their caregivers.   Clemmons Liaison Debra Perret said, “Ideally, the groups will consist of 15-25 residents sharing thoughts for about an hour.    Similar groups are meeting throughout Forsyth County. When completed, all input from the groups throughout the county will be tallied to come up with the prioritized needs to be addressed over a sequence of months and years. This will be the first year of an ongoing series of events to be sure that Forsyth County is creating and maintaining age-friendly communities.”

The local liaisons are Debra Perret, perret.debra@gmail.com in Clemmons and Martin Slominski, mwslominski@triad.rr.com in Lewisville and Pfafftown. Local input is needed and you can help by scheduling a focus group for your neighborhood, church or faith group, club or other organization. Just reach out to one of these representatives. The goal is to complete all focus groups before the end of November. Debra is holding an open session on Oct. 8 from 3-4:30 p.m. at the Broyhill Conference center. Call 336-701-1700 Ext. 103, if you would like to attend.  

With scores of boomers now progressing through the golden years, efforts like this are worthy of our attention, support, and our communities’ voices. After all, vibrant communities plan and the adjustments that accompany growing older deserve a plan that is informed and thoughtfully executed to offer life-enhancing, fulfilling opportunities for all stages of life. Pull a group together, give Debra or Martin a call, and let’s all benefit from your thoughts and ideas. We look forward to learning the outcomes from the focus groups.

Sandi Scannelli is president and CEO of the Clemmons Community Foundation. Contact her at sandi@clemmonsfoundation.org .