Nine area towns admitted to AARP’s ‘age-friendly’ community network

  • Members of the Age-Friendly Steering Committee and LifePath’s Age-Friendly Project Team with the official certificate designating Franklin County and the North Quabbin region as an Age-Friendly Community. Back row, left to right: Christina Johnson, director of the South County Senior Center; Barbara Bodzin, executive director of LifePath; and Carol Foote, development and outreach director with LifePath. Front row, left to right: Lynne Feldman, director of community services with LifePath; and Nour Elkhattaby Strauch, LifePath’s Age-Friendly Program manager. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 7/7/2021 5:37:17 PM

Nine towns throughout Franklin County and the North Quabbin region were admitted to AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities during a virtual ceremony Tuesday afternoon.

In addition to this regional designation, the nine towns have gained membership in the network after declaring their commitment to achieving a more livable community for older adults and people of all ages. The nine towns recognized Tuesday are Athol, Conway, Greenfield, Leyden, Montague, New Salem, Orange, Wendell and Whately.

LifePath’s Age-Friendly Program Manager Nour Elkhattaby Strauch said that while Tuesday’s ceremony gave certificates to this first wave of towns, he has been working to bring more towns within Franklin County and the North Quabbin region into the network. Selectboards from other towns, such as Erving, Leverett, Bernardston and Warwick have also recently voted in favor of joining the Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, but are still in the process of finalizing their enrollment.

“We’re really trying to engage all 30 towns in the LifePath service area,” Elkhattaby Strauch said.

According to Elkhattaby Strauch, enrollment makes towns eligible to apply for specific grants that are available through the network, with both national opportunities for funding through AARP and more regional opportunities through agencies like the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative or the state Department of Public Health. Additionally, enrolled towns will have access to information on “best practices” from programs that have proven to work for other communities that are part of the age-friendly network.

“It gives us the opportunity to exchange best practices not only from towns next to us, but from across the country,” Elkhattaby Strauch said.

Speaking during Tuesday’s presentation, AARP Age-Friendly Director Antron Watson referred to the “eight domains of livability.” According to Watson’s presentation, these domains include: housing, transportation, outdoor spaces and buildings, communications and information, civic participation and employment, respect and social inclusion, health services and community supports, and social participation.

“These are the things that make our communities great places to live,” Watson said. “This is where we want to support you.”

He also explained why he views rural communities as “laboratories of opportunity.” Watson said there is “less of a bureaucracy” than in larger cities and suburban communities. This, paired with a greater connection among residents, lends itself to more opportunity for collaboration and civic participation.

Watson virtually “handed off” a copy of an Age-Friendly Community certificate to Lynne Feldman, director of community services at LifePath. Under a federal designation as the area agency on aging, Feldman said LifePath is responsible for ensuring the needs of older adults in local communities are met through work with community partners, including councils on aging. In an effort to continue improving aspects of housing, transportation, social isolation and more, Feldman said LifePath will encourage other area towns to go through the Age-Friendly Community designation process.

“After this enrollment phase, the age-friendly process transitions into a needs assessment phase, followed by creation of an age-friendly action plan and, finally, implementation,” Feldman said.

The upcoming needs assessment will include a community survey, listening sessions and other means of gathering data. She said the collaborative effort will be made “by the community, for the community,” and planning for this is underway already, with community members to be invited to provide input through various workgroups.

Thanking funders and partners, including the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), councils on aging, the state Department of Public Health, AARP and others, Feldman said the enrollment of area towns in the Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities marks a milestone that will start “building momentum toward making our area a great place to age.”

According to Elkhattaby Strauch, AARP’s age-friendly network includes more than 530 communities from across the country. Massachusetts was the second state in the nation to join the network, and there are over 70 communities across the state that have received the age-friendly designation. These latest nine towns Tuesday joined Deerfield and Sunderland, which previously enrolled in 2019 and earlier this year, respectively.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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