When our communities have what they need to support older adults in healthy and successful aging, we’re one step closer to seeing everyone in southwest Minnesota thrive. Age Friendly Communities is a program that engages local community members in identifying age friendly assets as well as improvements that could have a positive impact on livability for all ages. Led by Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging (MNRAAA) in partnership with Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF), the effort focuses on towns with populations of less than 5,000, engaging local residents in small projects that make a big difference.
So far, a total of 13 communities have boosted their age friendly assets through Age Friendly Communities. MNRAAA facilitates the work on the ground, and SWIF supports the project with funding. The process includes forming a Community Leadership Team, engaging residents in completing an Age Friendly survey to identify assets and needs and using the survey results to find projects that will have a positive impact not only for older adults, but also for all community members. Grants of up to $10,000 are available to use toward meeting a need identified in the survey.
Local Community Leadership Teams have championed the following local projects:
- Adrian discovered their community wanted programming that involves all ages. An Intergenerational Coordinator was hired to organize activities such as planting a community garden, introduction to social media classes and more.
- Balaton remodeled their community center bathrooms to make them accessible. They also plan to host consistent programming for older adults in the community center. (Pictured below is the community celebration hosted following completion of the remodel.)
- Beardsley added an accessible sidewalk to their park to improve access to the restrooms.
- DeGraff enhanced accessibility of restrooms in their community center, which is often used for gatherings such as funerals, graduation receptions, wedding and baby showers and other parties. This also resulted in a childcare center being added to their community center.
- Echo added accessible doors and better signage to their community center, which also serves as their senior nutrition and community gathering site.
- Eden Valley improved the acoustics in the community center and purchased a storage cabinet and supplies for future activities. As a result of this process, they offered an Aging Mastery series and SAIL — Stay Active and Independent for Life — classes.
- Kerkhoven added handicapped accessible doors to the building that houses the local community center, library and city office. The project resulted in monthly meals with an educational or entertainment segment for people age 60 and better.
- Lamberton replaced old park benches and added gliding benches for their park where community events are hosted. They also updated their community center’s bathroom. (Pictured above is a group enjoying the new benches.)
- Madison created a new park area on their main street, using grant funds to purchase outdoor musical instruments. The new downtown park idea led to a fully planned park with outdoor exercise equipment, trees and benches. Additional grant funds and local fundraisers provided funds to complete their $93,000 plan. They also hosted a volunteer fair to promote local opportunities for volunteerism.
- Milan purchased equipment to offer movies either outdoors or in the school gym. A gazebo was constructed next to the post office to encourage conversation, as well as the purchase of games and other activities for older adults who indicated they want to gather after daily walks. Milan also added equipment to city hall so that those with hearing impairments could hear city council meetings and other events hosted there.
- Pipestone purchased benches for downtown where they host community events and people stop to shop at local businesses.
- Porter added a handicapped accessible, covered entrance to the Porter Café’, which is also their Prairie Five Community Action senior nutrition meal site and community gathering place.
- Tyler found they needed better access to their swimming pool for morning water aerobics and installed an accessible sidewalk.
“These projects would not have been possible without the support of the Southwest Initiative Foundation,” said Betty Christensen, MNRAAA Program Developer.
Since 2016, Southwest Initiative Foundation has granted $285,900 to support Age Friendly Communities. Funds come from the Paul and Alma Schwan Aging Trust Endowment Fund, a resource that maximizes the social and economic contributions of elders throughout southwest Minnesota by keeping them well and engaged in community life. The most recent census shows southwest Minnesota continues to lead the state in percentage of population age 85 or better, according to data from Minnesota Compass.
“We know our older adults are essential to the fabric of vibrant and welcoming communities. This program highlights how we can weave together the contributions and needs of all ages to foster an even stronger sense of belonging for everyone,” said Nancy Fasching, SWIF Vice President of Community Impact.
More projects are in the works across southwest Minnesota, helping small towns become more age friendly so that everyone in our region can thrive.