David Pirnack readily admits he felt lost after his wife died last year after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. Family members encouraged him to get out of the house and get involved in the community, but he wasn’t sure how to make that happen.
Then one day he walked into the Bemis Library in Littleton, Colorado, and saw the sign for the Aging Well Resource Center (AWRC). There Pirnack met Kay Wilmesher, the center's community program director, and sat down for a chat about his life.
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Pirnack, 81, who retired from IBM and then spent 15 years with his wife in the antiques business, had plenty of skills but no idea how to put them to work. "I don’t know anything about anything right now," he remembers telling Wilmesher.
After learning about his interests, Wilmesher suggested that Pirnack get involved in volunteer opportunities at the library and at a nearby museum. She also encouraged him to attend the weekly senior luncheon on Thursdays at the local recreation center. He did, and he ended up meeting new people and playing pickleball (a game he discovered he liked).
"I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t come here," reveals Pirnack. "I'm not the way I used to be, but I'm getting better. There was a time for months that I cried every day. I don't do that anymore. Now I have things I can look forward to."
HERE'S HOW IT WAS DONE
WHAT: Littleton Aging Well Resource Center
WHERE: Bemis Library, Littleton, Colorado
WHEN: Launched in October 2014, the resource center is open Mondays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
WHY: David Pirnack is just one of the estimated 7,300 people age 65 and older who are now living in Littleton. He's part of what Michael Penny, Littleton's city manager, calls the area's "silver tsunami."
With one of the oldest populations in the metro Denver area, nearly 40 percent of Littleton's 43,700 residents are age 50-plus.
Penny says that although counties rather than the cities in the region typically handle human services type work, Littleton felt it had to help connect its older residents to the resources the community had to offer.
HOW IT GOT STARTED
Penny commissioned Wilmesher, who had built the Greater Littleton Youth Initiative for the city, to come up with a plan. She spent a year researching and visiting several Denver-area communities to see what others where doing in the aging field. Wilmesher also formed a task force — the Littleton Coalition on Aging Well — with members from local nonprofit organizations, churches and government entities to brainstorm about possibilities. The task force formulated the idea of housing a one-stop office in a familiar place — the library — where clients over the age of 50 could meet face-to-face (with an actual person!) who knew about community resources and could connect them via referrals with what they needed.
HOW IT WORKS
Now open four days a week, four hours a day, the center has served more than 700 people since its opening in the fall of 2014, according to Wilmesher, who notes that the center has had contact with an additional 1,000-plus people at various community events.
Older residents and caregivers can either drop-in to the center or schedule an appointment. The client then sits with Wilmesher or one of her two part-time employees to discuss what's going on: a housing crisis, an aging-in-place problem, the need for a caregiver to have some time away.
Wilmesher helps clients prioritize what's most urgent in their lives, then she talks about the available community resources, sending them off with a referral sheet listing the contact information for individuals and agencies that can help.
"The AWRC is structured to be a navigation service," explains Phil Cernanec, the former mayor of Littleton and a member of the city council. "Some folks are still challenged by electronic searching and coordination."
The center can provide assistance with issues related to food, nutrition, health, medical treatment, utilities, housing resources, education, recreation, senior advocacy, employment, in-home care, home repair, Medicare, Medicaid, transportation, volunteer opportunities, veteran's benefits, social security and caregiver support. What the Aging Well Resource Center won’t do is provide referrals to any for-profit institutions. Among the resources they do make clients aware of are the Colorado Senior Resource Guidebook, published by the Colorado Gerontological Society, and Colorado Seniors Blue Book, which provides information about senior housing and caregiving.
The Aging Well Resource Center is funded by the City of Littleton. Approximately $190,000 covers all center expenses, including staff. When not meeting with clients, Wilmesher's behind-the-scenes work includes data collection, networking and researching new opportunities for seniors.
HOW TO CREATE AN AGING WELL RESOURCE CENTER IN YOUR COMMUNITY
The initial steps include:
- Knowing what resources are already available and how they're accessed.
- Meeting with and getting buy-in from local leaders.
- Forming a task force that involves community partners (such as organizations, businesses, agencies and individuals) who can help develop a workable plan.
Some words of wisdom:
- "Listening to your partners and the people who are already in the business is huge," says Wilmesher.
- "Having a caring professional to manage the center is very important," believes Cernanec.
- "Be flexible," says Kelli Narde, communications and marketing director for the city of Littleton. "Any time you start a new program you constantly have to adapt."
- "Placing the center in a comfortable, familiar location that is already visited by lots of people is very important,” adds Linda Haley, division manager for Arapahoe County Housing, Community Development and Senior Resources.
For Wilmesher, the biggest challenge was creating awareness. "People don’t know about such a resource center as a concept, so they don’t know where to go looking for it,” she says.
To help build awareness, the city hosts regular "Grab, Gab and Go" coffee, tea and refreshments events at the library so residents can learn about the center's services.
Also crucial: Finding the right data collection tools in order to process information about demographics and resources so, says Wilmesher, "we can predict and more accurately plan for our current and future needs."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
- Visit the web page of the Aging Well Resource Center in Littleton, Colorado
- To get involved in livability and age-friendly efforts in Colorado, contact AARP Colorado
Vickie Bane is a Colorado-based freelance writer and a former staff writer for People magazine.
Published May 2016