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2021 Workshop Video: Innovation Showcases

Practitioners share efforts and initiatives that are increasing engagement and making a difference

More than a dozen livability experts, local leaders and community members quickly described their innovative efforts and achievements. Watch the video by clicking the play arrow. Read the presentation summaries below.

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Cynthia Gibson, Executive Director
Idaho Walk Bike Alliance 
(Time Stamp: 0:08)

  • Because older adults are overrepresented in fatal pedestrian crashes, Gibson says, their interests should be taken into account when designing roads. She begins her presentation by showing a pair of photos representing stretches of Idaho highway: one features a forlorn, concrete stretch of road adjacent to a high-speed highway; a second image contains a road with trees, green space, better lighting and a wide sidewalk. She advocates for more roads to be like the second photo. Gibson’s other examples point to the need to acknowledge differences in abilities, such as the amount of time needed to cross a street. And she also tells the story of an Idaho couple who were killed while walking along a highway. Without understanding how different populations use resources, like roads, Gibson maintains, it’s impossible to come up with solutions to enhance safety.

Anne Chansler, Director of Elder Rights
Florida Department of Elder Affairs 
(Time Stamp 3:09)

  • Chansler talks about her department’s innovative therapeutic robotic companion pets initiative. The Florida Department of Elder Affairs began delivering therapeutic pets to socially isolated seniors and adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia in April 2020. She discusses another initiative launched in 2020, project VITA. It stands for Virtual Inclusive Technology for All. The project supports the well-being of seniors, their families and caregivers by allowing them to remain virtually engaged and connected through specially-created tablets. To date, there are 600 tablets in 300 senior living facilities and more than 30,000 interaction have taken place.

Staci Sahoo, Director of Mobility Management
(Time Stamp 6:09)

  • Hopelink, a community action agency based in Bellevue, Washington, educates, coordinates and advocates for transportation solutions that start and end with the customer. Mobility solutions must work for everyone, Sahoo explains, noting that some older adults may have moved to a new area to be closer to grandchildren but don't want to own a car. Sahoo describes how her organization works directly with older adults and people with disabilities to evaluate how they find and secure transportation.

Melanie Lachman , UPSLIDE Program Coordinator
Tallahassee Senior Center 
(Time Stamp 9:10)

  • UPSLIDE stands for "utilizing and promoting social engagement for loneliness, isolation and depression in the elderly." It’s an award-winning program focusing on social engagement. The program employs mental health care providers who provide counseling to address social challenges including depression, anxiety and trauma. Counselors also provide connections to community resources and support as people take steps toward becoming more social. Chat groups meet in person and virtually, and folks come together in a relaxed,  confidential setting to make new friends, have new experiences and have fun. 

Richard Prudom, Secretary
Florida Department of Elder Affairs (Time Stamp 12:09)

  • In March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Department Elder Affairs quickly established a work group with the state’s 11 Area Agencies on Aging (known as Triple A’s), which support residents’ health and social needs, including nutrition services, through home delivery and congregate meals. With inspiration from a town in Tennessee, Florida established the Feeding Older Floridians Restaurant Meals initiative. The program's goals: to meet the nutritional needs of homebound older adults and those with limited meal access; and to support the local businesses being devastated by the shelter-in-place orders. The Triple A’s quickly formed new partnerships with restaurants that could best meet the needs of older adults and the community. The initiative provided more than 5.5 million meals to older adults or individuals with disabilities.

Sarah Sandau, Preventive Programs Supervisor
Lewis and Clark Public Health 
(Time Stamp 15:05)

  • Sandau’s presentation is titled “Changing the Community Through the Power of Coalitions.” She works in Lewis and Clark County, Montana, where the capital Helena is located. Despite the beautiful outdoors recreation opportunities, there are high rates of chronic disease and inactivity. More than eight years ago, a ” healthy communities” coalition was formed. It now concentrates on cancer prevention, but back then pivoted to include general chronic disease prevention. The coalition now includes 50 partners. Sandau say that diverse and inclusive membership is key to success in the work she is doing. The coalition’s vision is a community where people are empowered to make healthy choices. Its mission is to work as a diverse team of health advocates to improve the health and well-being of the community through education, motivation, policy development and creative partnerships. One of the coalition's four work groups focuses on aging well.

Kevin C. Walford, WDA Manager and Trainer
Miami Transportation Planning Organization 
Benazir Portal, Associate Engineer
Kittelson and Associates 
(Time Stamp 18:10)

  • Between 2008 and 2014, more than 10 percent of all crashes in Miami-Dade County, Florida, occurred within a quarter mile of an older adult living center. The older population in Florida is increasing and areas with a high concentrations of older adults need attention from transportation professionals. In 2018, the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization conducted a senior living facilities road safety audit during crash peak period conditions to evaluate safety conditions and identify countermeasures. After meeting with the residents and staff of senior living facilities to learn more about their daily experiences, planning staff developed short-term and long-term project recommendations for how to improve safety for people who walk, bike and drive in these areas. 

Walter Leutz, Co-Founder
Waltham Connections For Healthy Race 
(Time Stamp 21:27)

  • Walter Leutz presented a description of the Senior Civic Academy that was offered in Waltham, Massachusetts, in February and March of 2021. The purpose of the academy was to help older adults learn about healthy aging and age-friendly communities, how governments and programs work for older adults, and how to advocate for an issue. The academy was sponsored by Waltham Connections for Healthy Aging, a coalition of seniors and agencies serving older adults in the small city of Waltham, just west of Boston. The Academy was funded by grants from AARP Foundation and Jewish Family and Children's Services. The program was led six older community residents who developed a seven-week, three-hour-per-week program on Zoom and enrolled 13 seniors. Guest presenters included the city's mayor, council members and department heads, as well as other state and federal officials and agency heads. They taught participants — each of whom had to pick an issue, study it and give an "elevator speech at graduation — how to make a persuasive argument. 

Laura San Juan, WDA Manager and Trainer
Waltham Connections for Healthy Aging
 (Time Stamp 24:35)

  • San Juan was one of the trainers of the Welcome to the Digital Age Program, created to provide free internet and basic computer training to 19 low-income  older adults in Waltham. Several sponsors provided funds for the program’s $16,700 in costs, most of which was spent on Chromebooks. The program ran from February to June 2021 with the help of older adult volunteers. Participants learned how to send emails, connect to Zoom meetings, create documents, search the internet and remain secure online. “I feel empowered," one participant gushed. "I can communicate with my relatives out of state and see my grandkids.” 

Greg Olsen, Director
New York State Office for Aging
 (Time Stamp 27:39) 

  • New York’s State Office for Aging is focused on the social, intellectual and economic capital older adult residents bring to the state. Olsen estimates that his office saves Medicaid at least $65 million annually by serving people in their homes and communities. This, in turn, keeps economic activity and volunteerism in the state. Part of this focus involves supporting caregivers. A public-private partnership works with local businesses to connect the caregivers they employ with resources. The Office for Aging has also conduced surveys of caregivers to better understand their experiences and identify gaps in service. A new Virtual Senior Center is now offering online classes that allow older adults to continue to learn and build friendships. These include health and wellness courses, as well as offerings about cooking, pets, photography and other interests. Because 95 percent of New York State does not have public transportation access, the Office of Aging is working to provide services through a partnership with GoGoGrandparent, an app that helps connect older adults with ridesharing services. For residents who are struggling with social isolation, the Animatronic Pet Project provides robotic animal companions. Since its pilot in 2018, the project has distributed 4,000 pets, which Olsen says have been proven to improve social isolation by 70 percent. Following New York’s lead, 33 other states have implemented animatronic pet initiatives.

Rita Morrow, Volunteer
AARP Kentucky (Age-Friendly Louisville) 
(Time Stamp 30:40)

  • Morrow says AARP Kentucky and Age-Friendly Louisville is committed to ensuring that residents have access to accessible, affordable and enjoyable intergenerational activities. But with COVID-19, in-person social activities were off the table. Partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs, AARP Kentucky held a virtual Halloween costume contest in which children paraded past the camera and AARP volunteers judged the costumes. Children at the Boys & Girls Clubs also wrote notes and packed supplies into backpacks, which went to homebound veterans and those experiencing homelessness. Drive-by parades marking the Kentucky Derby and other occasions also brought intergenerational fun to local senior living and child care centers. Participants decorated their cars and donned festive hats and costumes. Ten parades took place over the past year, with parade routes throughout the city. "While COVID-19 kept us away from in-person activities, we found a way to bring some joy and reduce that feeling of isolation, just a little,” Morrow said.

Gini Cunningham, Project Coordinator
Age- and Dementia-Friendly Winnemucca and Humboldt County 
(Time Stamp 33:55)

  • Winnemucca is a city of about 8,000 within a county population of about 17,000. It's located on the Humboldt River at the crossroads of US 95 and Interstate 80. About eight years ago, the community held a town hall forum on dementia and driving. It became clear that once a driver’s license was taken away from someone with dementia, their independence and the ability to connect with others was compromised. At that point, the community launched Age- and Dementia-Friendly Winnemucca and became part of AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. The group helps older residents modify their homes for safe aging in place or find suitable housing by moving to another residence. It also works to make transportation better, with attention to safer sidewalks and bike paths. In addition, Age- and Dementia-Friendly Winnemucca offers a variety of aging- and dementia-related education opportunities for business owners, law enforcement and others. With its first AARP grant, the team added a fitness park and paved walking path with exercise equipment along the route. A more recent AARP grant enabled Winnemucca to augment accessibility at the community garden with raised planting beds and other improvements. The project team includes members of the city and county government, healthcare workers, clergy, bankers, educators, business owners, community-based service providers, library staff, first responders, neighbors and friends. 

Christy Nishita, Ph.D., Coordinator
Age-Friendly Honolulu 
(Time Stamp 37:05)

  • Honolulu has “a culture that respects our kupuna — our older adults,” says Nishita. Age-Friendly Honolulu partnered with local high schools to develop a curriculum on aging and elder care, encouraging teens to consider careers in aging services. (Nishita says the program is aimed at ensuring Honolulu as an adequate workforce to support older adults in the future.) Students participate in intergenerational activities with older adults, including through an intergenerational initiative with Blue Zones Hawaii called Purpose Pals, which pairs teens with older adults. The relationships were particularly needed during the pandemic, Nishita says, when so many people, of all ages, faced social isolation. 

Niki Delson, Co-Chair
Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative 
(Time Stamp 39:42)

  • Locally known as CAFCI, this Carbondale, Colorado-based age-friendly initiative is a fully-grassroots organizing effort. (Carbondale as a community has no staff positions designated for elder work and CAFCI has no budget.) The town is a destination for skiers, rafters, fly fishers, cyclists and retirees. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, CAFCI members helped secure vaccine appointments for older residents. Using the AARP Walk Audit Tool Kit, CAFCI volunteers walked every priority roadway and documented their findings. In the end, town trustees got the message, and they budgeted $750,000 over three years to make a dangerous street safer. “But more importantly,” says Delson, “because of our expertise, strength and perseverance, we are no longer footnotes. Our elected officials see us as a resource to the community.”

Stephanie Giacomo, Grant Writer/Administrator
City of McAlester, Oklahoma
(Time Stamp: 43:05)

  • McAlester is a town in rural southeast Oklahoma, located within the boundaries of the Choctaw Nation. A third of the population is over age 50 and many residents reside in the area for their entire lives. McAlester does not have a town square or central plaza in its downtown. This meant the downtown had no connection point for people, Stephanie Giacomo explains. “If you’re from a small town, you already know historic downtowns are the heard of the city and are still vibrant,” she says. An underutilized parking lot near a mix of new and established businesses was chosen to become the town center. The bank that owned the lot donated it to the community. Town employees and volunteers relocated utilities on the site to accommodate food trucks and pop-up businesses. They rebuilt sidewalks, laid new sod and installed benches, bike racks, trash cans, tables and chairs and drinking fountains. An AARP Community Challenge grant helped fund the project. "We transformed a vehicle-centric space into a connecting point for people,” Giacomo says during her Innovation Showcase presentation. The new greenspace has since led to more public art, community festivals and increased investment in McAlester’s downtown.

Christy Patch, J.D., Ph.D., Community and Aging Policy Specialist
County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, Aging & Independence Services 
(Time Stamp 46:03)

  • Age-Friendly San Diego County engaged area students to create short films highlighting the importance of age-friendly community work. The students could chose to feature programs addressing housing, transportation or related issues faced by the region’s aging population. Students who participated received stipends and mentorship, as well as access to film equipment. “Age-friendly community building is important because it helps us close the gap between older generations and younger generations,” one student filmmaker said. Another shared, “I think one of the biggest gifts you can give someone else is the ability and willingness to listen and empathize.”

Jean Saunders, Director
Age Friendly Saco, Maine
(Time Stamp 50:06)

  • Saco, Maine is a seaside community of about 20,000 in southern Maine. The town’s Tech Handy Helper program seeks to bridge the digital divide by helping older adults obtain smart technology devices, such as the Echo Dot or Google Home systems. Volunteers help the recipients install the smart speakers and learn how to use them. Costing about $50 to purchase, plus the price of internet access, the devices are a lower-cost alternative to commercial medical alert devices, which can run from $240 and to $900 a year. In the case of an emergency, residents can tell the speaker to “Call the Saco Fire Department.” The device will also call the user’s personal contacts one by one until someone answers. Smart speakers can be programmed to provide medication reminders, set timers for exercise regimes, check the weather, lock doors, turn lights off or on, compile grocery lists and make calls to loved ones. Saunders says the smart speaker devices help Saco’s older adults maintain their independence, remain in their homes and stay socially connected.

José Gómez, Co-Founder and CEO,
Espacio Lúdico
 (Time Stamp 53:24)

  • Espacio Lúdico, a non-governmental organization in Chile, emphasizes the importance of urban social life. Gomez says his organization began with the question: “Is it possible to have good quality of life in our cities if 80 percent of all public spaces are designed for automobiles?” Espacio Lúdico works to recover public spaces so residents can gather, socialize, hold festivals and make political and cultural connections. The organization focuses on creating playful spaces that stimulate creativity and connect people. Projects incorporate murals, sidewalk games and outdoor spaces for gathering and performances. Although most people associate play with children, play is a basic component of human nature, he explains, one that creates a union between residents and their neighborhoods, fosters collective and collaborative work, and instills a sense of pride. Learn more about Espacio Lúdico from AARP International. (Scroll down the page to find the event recording and a downloadable case study.)


AARP Community Challenge, Bynum Front Porch
Chatham County, North Carolina
(Time Stamp 53:06)

When the country store in Bynam, North Carolina, was slated to close in 2006, a group of neighbors each contributed $250, created a nonprofit and took over operating the building for use as a community center. They gathered feedback from the community about options for the space. The general store opened in 1934. “It was their Facebook back then,” Bynum Front Porch Board Member Cynthia Raxton explains. People would go to the store to collect their mail and chat with neighbors. Today the Front Porch offers musical performances, storytelling and visual arts. "It's a center for social interaction. A lot of the people who go to the Front Porch are the 50-plus," explains Lisa Riegel of AARP North Carolina. With help from an AARP Community Challenge Grant in 2020, Bynum Front Porch added live broadcasting technology. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the community center purchased iPhones, iPads, studio lighting and other equipment in order to livestream its programming online. 

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