This fall, AARP will host a statewide summit in Macon — Exposing Hunger in Georgia — of nonprofit organizations and government agencies to deal with the problem of hunger among older adults in Georgia. A 2010 Feeding America study found that 54 percent of Georgia households with at least one person 65 or older experienced food insecurity.
In November, AARP Georgia will cosponsor the annual Middle Georgia CARE-NET Conference in Macon with the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving.
AARP Georgia has also begun a program called "12th at 12" to bring local nonprofit organizations together at noon on the 12th of each month to provide a network of services and support for those in need.
Building on those efforts, Macon-Bibb was invited in April to join the AARP/World Health Organization (WHO) Network of Age-Friendly Communities. WHO has designated roughly three dozen age-friendly communities in about two dozen countries with plans for pilot programs in Georgia and six other states as well as the District of Columbia.
"The age-friendly program is a way of expanding what we are doing," said Karen Cooper, AARP Georgia associate state director for community outreach.
"We want to focus on improving the elements that enhance independent living. One way of doing that is to have an age-friendly advisory citizens group. If the city and county don't have volunteers with an age-friendly focus … we can help them find appropriate volunteers."
Macon and Bibb County's demographics were a key reason the area was selected as Georgia's first age-friendly community, Cooper said.
One out of eight city and county residents is 65-plus.
Focus on quality of life
Communities participating in the AARP/WHO program are asked to focus on broad areas that influence the health and quality of life for older people.
The list includes accessibility to safe recreational facilities; safe and affordable private and public transportation; housing options for aging in place; access to leisure and cultural activities; programs for ethnic and cultural diversity; civic participation; employment for people 50-plus; promotion of and access to the use of technology; and access to home care services, clinics and programs to promote active aging.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert (D) said the city welcomes the designation because "the process and goals are consistent with current and contemplated plans to make Macon a walkable, livable and multi-modal [transportation] community."
Bibb County Commission Chairman Samuel F. Hart Sr. (D) noted there are already projects under way to benefit residents who are 50-plus, including NewTown, the redevelopment of downtown Macon with new shops and accessible housing.
"We're also building a new senior citizens facility in a downtown park area where a lot of activities take place," Hart said.
The age-friendly initiative could not have come at a better time, said Myrtle Habersham, a key volunteer for AARP Georgia in Macon-Bibb County who will help recruit volunteers for this project.
"There are 79 million baby boomers in America," Habersham said.
"Many of us are still working, we're paying taxes, we're still contributing, and we're taking advantage of all the cultural and recreational things. What better place to do that than in Macon and Bibb County?"
For more information about becoming an AARP volunteer in your community, call 1-866-295-7281 toll-free or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also of interest: Volunteer gardeners donate produce to food pantry.
Don O'Briant is a writer living in Atlanta.