"Communities for All Ages" Includes Focus on Senior Needs, New Models for Sustainability

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mike Gallagher
CMF Editorial Correspondent

Michigan is facing unprecedented challenges as ever-changing economic, social and governmental issues combine to make development of successfully diverse and sustainable communities both a political and financial necessity.

While many agree on the need for such change, the question of just how to go about finding new methodologies, funding mechanisms and projects to positively impact such diverse areas as economic and workforce development, the environment and healthcare remains what many experts characterize as “the tough nut to crack.”

While others continue to discuss and debate this conundrum, Michigan foundation and other nonprofit leaders are taking the lead and forging new public/private alliances, creative funding mechanisms and game-changing partnerships to meet the needs of their respective communities head on.

Stories of their successes were shared at a summer 2013 event entitled: “Communities For All Ages” held at The Village of Sage Grove in Kalamazoo. Funders from across the state attended the meeting hosted by the Council of Michigan Foundations’ (CMF) Michigan Grantmakers in Aging Affinity Group.

Highlighting current projects leading to positive change in their cities and towns were Kate Luckert Schmid, program director, Grand Rapids Community Foundation; Dan Doezema, field representative, Michigan Office on Services to the Aging; Karen Kafantaris, associate state director, AARP Michigan; Brenda Hunt, president/CEO, Battle Creek Community Foundation (BCCF); and Amy Smyth, project director, Presbyterian Villages of Michigan.

Talking about the success of an initiative begun in 2004 called “Creating Community for a Lifetime (CCL)”, Schmid noted the project came about through an internal discussion among GRCF staff and board members.

“Catalyzed by a gift from The Lucy E. Barnett Trust for the Elderly, the foundation decided to explore the need and issues surrounding the aging population in Kent County,” she said.

“We learned there were multiple services organized for seniors, but that the network was fragmented…and not developed through systematic planning that might have (been) aimed at identifying new opportunities, determining priorities or developing measurable indicators of progress,” said Schmid.

GRCF forged a formal partnership with the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan and then worked to launch a community wide initiative that included forming a select group of stakeholders as a “Core Council.” A community meeting was held and information from an AdvantAge Initiative survey was used to inform future action.

In 2005, work groups were established to address such issue needs for community based services, physical activity and nutrition and access to health care.

“This led to a comprehensive set of recommendations that our Core Council used to frame opportunities for the future and explore commitments to action by community stakeholders,” said Schmid.

Additionally, as a result of the successful project, the foundation has used the project’s findings and recommendations over the years to build its own strategic plan for its funding of aging initiatives.  Doezema shared the Michigan Office on Services to the Aging’s work in conducting an assessment of 10 “age-friendly” areas to see what could be replicated around the state to address the needs of seniors.

“We learned that developing, offering and supporting needed services for our older adults in our communities will help to both retain and attract them to those areas,” said Doezema. “Michigan seniors are today a $32 billion economic force. Nationally, studies have shown that for every $3 in public services received, seniors give back $4.”

Highlighting what foundations and other nonprofits can do to help promote “senior-friendly services” in their communities, he suggested: “Encourage your communities to join the CCL national coalition; include community leaders interested in senior issues in your research and meetings; and fund those (senior) programs that support your missions.”

AARP’s Kafantaris shared that 10,000 baby boomers reach age 65 every day and they are bringing with them a multi-billion dollar influx of pensions, 401Ks, Medicaid/Medicare dollars and much more. “Seniors must be looked as a resource, not just a drain on existing dollars,” she noted.

“They benefit their communities through entrepreneurship, increasing volunteerism, promote civic engagement and are a big voting block.”

Foundations can help support them – and in turn the communities where they reside – by providing funding to help develop a framework for creating new, needed services for them; staffing at existing senior programs to keep them running; and conducting community assessments and surveys to address senior needs, according to Kafantaris.

Hunt shared her foundation’s (BCCF) long-term efforts to restructure and retain an important senior center for her community that was in danger of being closed.  When past funding for the 44,000-square-foot facility dried up, Hunt and others were asked in to help find a way to keep its doors open. The group began by undertaking an assessment of all aspects of the facility – from funding to operations to public perception and use.

“We found that the culture of the center was sick from staff to seniors,” said Hunt, who saw a unique opportunity to bring together seniors and youth through a ground-level restructuring of the facility and its purpose.

The slow – and ongoing - process then began of restructuring and paying off the center’s million-dollar-plus debt and creating a more vibrant, useable hub for seniors and youth alike.

“For example, we decided to keep the building’s fitness center…but take the age restriction off. Today there are more than 1,200 members using it. We put a junior theatre in the 500-seat multi-purpose area. We are now working to find a way to bring excellent geriatric care in there, including offering continuing medical education that will serve our community members.

“This was all possible only through the mutual cooperation and partnership with leaders throughout our community,” said Hunt. “The key to making all of this work was to look at things in a different way; to take advantage of the youth/senior component and bringing them together. This is an ongoing project…that’s my journey.”

Wrapping up the presentation was Smyth, who shared the history – and continuing work – of creating a Presbyterian Village Network Model which calls for a membership-based and member-directed operation; forging of strategic partnerships of government, nonprofits and business; and finding new ways to connect with other people and to other communities.

“We are working to develop this model with a ‘hub-and-spoke’ approach,” said Smyth. “It will be supported by an infrastructure at each Presbyterian location that focuses on access, well-being and engagement (of their senior clientele) To make it sustainable, this model allows for us to utilize economies of scale with an emphasis on increased quality of housing and services alike.

“Also, our goal of sustainability necessitates that we continue to build a strategic alliance with local business partners. We also need to leverage technology where possible for cost savings and improved operations. Membership fees and ongoing fundraising will provide the dollars to create our communities of success!”

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