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Aging in the Hood: Small Grants/Big Impact

Posted Jan 29 2010 1:12pm

January 29, 2010

Sitting in Buffalo Airport, waiting to return to Hoosierland having spent two fascinating days with citizens of 6 Buffalo and 2 rural Western New York neighborhoods. Called the Neighborhoods (Aging in Place) Initiative, the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York is supporting these grass roots groups with small grants to tackle real issues affecting seniors striving to age in place amongst their neighbors.

While I’ll likely be remembered as the idiot from Indiana who didn’t bring a coat to Buffalo, my role was to convene discussion around methods to engage stakeholders, including seniors and kids, with issues of aging in place. This was followed by small group meetings and a tour of several Buffalo neighborhoods. The diverse group of neighborhoods range from low income neighborhoods struggling with disinvestment and deteriorating housing stock, to middle class, first ring districts with fantastic 100 year old late Victorian and arts and crafts residences. Buffalo has outstanding architecture and landscaping, including work by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, and Frederick Law Olmstead. Rural communities participating in the project include the village of Springville, in the town of Concord (a distinction in government units I was not aware of), and Pulteney, near Corning, south of Buffalo.

The neighborhoods have received $15,000 each to mount grass-roots organizing efforts to mobilize citizens and organizations around selected “indicators” drawn from the AdvantAge Initiative “four domains” model of an elder-friendly community. Their work will range from snow shoveling to weatherization; from transportation to relationship building – the kind of concrete goals that represent the marvelous ways that neighbors can support one another. I came away with much admiration for the creativity and compassion of these neighborhood community organizers- not a bad word in my lexicon!

I am excited by the national trend to support ground up planning and action in the field of aging. This can only help suplement the great work that agencies on aging and other service providers struggle to keep up with – a struggle that will never end for there will never be enough money for the government sector to address the needs.

The Administration on Aging is coming around to the same conclusion and, as a consequence, experimenting itself with new models for aging in place that spread the responsibilities beyond the traditional aging service network. Earlier in the week, as a member of the Technical Assistance Group, I had the pleasure of participating in the first meeting of the National Advisory Council for the AoA Community Innovations for Aging in Place project, which supports pilots in 14 cities and towns around the U.S., ranging from highly urban to highly rural. The shift in perspective from services to individuals to community development and organizing will be a fascinating thing to watch. What will be the role of Area Agencies on Aging in the future if they are to incorporate community development into their operational capacities? Are there other as yet undefined hybrid organizations out there that will provide leadership for the integrated, convergent strategic planning and action that will break down the siloes (transportation, housing, health care, land use) which, disconnected, preclude a more wholistic approach to aging in place?

As they say, we live in interesting times. Too bad this comes at just the moment when scarce resources dampen creativity, grand ideas, and national unity. What is different now, when compared to the 30’s, when grand ideas were just what the doctor ordered? I fear we have lost the memory of those times when we need it the most. You elders out there who lived through the depression…. we need your testimony!!! ( see my blog dated

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