Program Aims to Make Berkshires 'Age-Friendly'
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Between 40 percent and 50 percent of the population in most towns in Berkshire County is older than the age of 50.
And if 50 is the new 30, and middle age is now considered 60, then half of the population has a lot of living left to do.
That's why the Berkshires have joined an effort to be an "Age-Friendly Community," defined as "a way to help older adults remain healthy, active and engaged in their community as long as possible." Internationally, the World Health Organization defines and supports age-friendly communities, while in the United States the AARP fills that role.
Locally, the Berkshires have Celeste Harp, an energetic and passionate advocate of growing old gracefully. In late 2015, Harp was named program manager for the Berkshire County Age-Friendly Community effort, a five-year program funded by a grant from Tufts Health Plan Foundation. As she has settled into the role and began making connections, she already has brainstormed ideas like forums on March 31 and April 1 on helping seniors "age in place" in their homes (call 413-442-1521, Ext. 37) as well as an upcoming "senior speed dating" event for adults 70 and older to meet a new friend or companion (call 413-442-0907).
"This is about a cultural change of how we view aging," Harp said. "Why does your life end (with the death of a spouse)? Life goes on. It should be full and positive."
As such, there are "eight domains of livability" that have been targeted for the focus of the program: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information; and community support and health services. A task force has been created with subcommittees to research each "domain" and develop recommendations.
These committees are not starting without a solid foundation. Harp said Berkshire County is well poised to develop such a plan because of the "stunning" beauty of the area, a good cost of living and plenty of cultural opportunities.
"There's a lot going for it," she said.
Now she is spending her time building connections with Berkshire towns, institutions like colleges and councils on aging, and agencies like Elder Care of the Berkshires, Berkshire Health Systems and Home Instead Senior Care, which is housing her office at its Wendell Avenue offices as one of the original champions of the program. North Adams and Pittsfield have already officially joined the effort but she wants to see all 32 Berkshire municipalities join. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Now I'm building relationships and rapports with other towns. I want a champion from every town," she said. "I ask for people to join and help."
And helping implement these domains aimed at older residents will have the effect of helping people of all ages who choose to the call the Berkshires home. Mobility, access to buildings, shopping and health care, and transportation, for example, are important issues across the spectrum of ages, from 1 to 101, Harp said.
"This is a forever program that should be implemented," she said. "The aggregate effect is a more livable community."
Tags: age-friendly, aging, senior citizens,