Guest commentary: Making Pitkin County livable for residents of all ages is key
Aging is a process each of us experiences, but how we make the journey can be a different story. Aging happens and is vital; to put it bluntly, when it stops, we are dead. So why is aging seen negativity, when most older adults are active and engaged community members?
As the manager of Pitkin County Senior Services, I often observe local approaches to aging and living. The morning exercise classes at our Senior Center are full of yogis and dancers of all skill levels. A hearty group come in energized from their pre-lunch ski runs or bike rides. Others come regularly to spend time on the computer — to catch up on the news or search for their next adventure. Even more join us early to stake out a table for lunch so they can catch up with friends, hold thoughtful conversations, and maybe play mahjong. Every day in Pitkin County, I see interesting and astute older adults.
The county is committed to improving services and resources for residents of all ages. In 2013, Senior Services guided the creation of a community plan to address the needs and well-being of older adults. The plan addresses nearly everything that touches these lives, from education and volunteering to health care and supportive services for aging in place. The result was a blueprint for community action called the Pitkin County Aging Well Community Planning Initiative. In the years since, Senior Services and community partners have improved and expanded systems, programs and services throughout the Valley. The Aging Well Plan demonstrates (establishes) that Pitkin County is a community dedicated to ensuring its residents feel welcomed, supported, and a vital part of the community: thriving at every age.
As a result of our community action plan, Pitkin County received state, national and international recognition for its efforts around aging. AARP and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized Pitkin County as an Age Friendly and Livable Community in March 2017. Pitkin County is currently one of 12 communities throughout Colorado and over 359 communities nationwide to achieve the Age-Friendly designation. In September, when then-Gov. John Hickenlooper created the Lifelong Colorado initiative, Colorado became the third state in the nation to receive designation as an Age-Friendly state. Aging in Colorado found its moment.
Pitkin County was ahead of the curve and the trend is gaining steam. We are staying on the cutting edge of aging policy and practices. The Roaring Fork Valley is a beautiful place, full of fascinating people with unlimited life experiences. To be “age friendly” is to recognize the value in each of those experiences, to honor the stories and find the wisdom in perhaps unlikely places, in both younger and older faces. Does it matter if insight comes from an 84- or 24-year-old?
“Successful aging” or “aging gracefully” may be feel-good sentiments, but as gerontology experts I admire point out, a better approach is “empowered aging.” Whether we are in our 30s starting a family, our 50s starting a second career, our 70s starting to have some memory challenges, or in our 80s skiing Ajax, empowering people at any age moves the focus away from some goal of attainment or accomplishment, and toward the process of living, maintaining dignity, autonomy and self-worth.
Pitkin County needs your help. In an effort to strengthen our Aging Well Initiative we are hosting a series of community input events. The next ones are Tuesday, May 14, at the Pitkin County Library (Part II) and Wednesday, May 15, at the Basalt Regional Library. Each session is from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and lunch is provided if you RSVP at 970-920-5432.
We also are offering the community an opportunity to give input online if they cannot make the community sessions at http://www.pitkincountyconnect.com. Your thoughts and input will guide the final version of the plan.
If we present aging as an opportunity instead of a burden (as many people do), we can move beyond the stereotypes and create programs and initiatives in housing, transportation, health care and more, that allow all of us to age well in our community. The most important focus is you, our community members.
If you have questions or ideas, I would love to hear from you. Call me at 970-920-5432. Stop by, have lunch, take a class, enjoy a presentation or performance from one of our community partners, or practice Tai Chi. Tell me what will help you stay in the valley for as long as you desire.
Visit our website, http://www.pitkinseniors.com, for more information on who we are and what we are doing every day to make Pitkin County a livable community and a great place — at any age.
Chad Federwitz is a gerontologist, the manager of Pitkin County Senior Services and also serves as the member-at-large of the Colorado Commission on Aging.