In 2017, MNRAAA applied for and was awarded an Age-Friendly Community Building Project grant through the Southwest Initiative Foundation. The grant was to provide opportunities for two communities in the MNRAAA service area to engage in an age-friendly community building process. The goal of the process was to identify the communities’ age-friendly assets and desired assets. Each community would receive $10,000 to develop and implement initiatives that when completed would result in new and/or enhanced assets that have a positive impact on the age-friendliness of the community and its livability for all ages.
The MNRAAA board of directors selected the city of Porter (Yellow Medicine County) and the city of Kerkhoven (Swift County) through a competitive application process to participate in the community building process. MNRAAA’s program developers, Jamie Lanners, lead, and Betty Christensen, used processes based on established systems that focus on rural and remote communities to assess the age-friendliness of the two communities and evaluate the project.
As of the end of December, both Porter and Kerkhoven have conducted community-wide surveys and focus groups, and have compiled and analyzed the results. Possible activities were prioritized and projects were identified as “requiring funding” or “not requiring funding”. Porter decided to use their funds from the Southwest Initiative Foundation to add a handicapped accessible entrance to the Porter Café and Kerkhoven decided to add handicapped accessible doors to the city office/library/community center. Both of these locations are local gathering places and hubs for community activities.
Thanks to the Southwest Initiative Foundation, this project provided Porter and Kerkhoven a unique opportunity to participate in the community building process. It has raised the awareness of their communities and their residents about the unique social and environmental challenges they face as a result of the aging of their residents. It also provided an exciting opportunity for these two communities to assess their assets and desired assets, to engage in a process that moved them forward in enhancing their age-friendliness and to demonstrate their age-friendly leadership to other local communities.
In the final stages of the Age-Friendly Community Building process, the Kerkhoven city clerk made the following comments about the project: “The Age-Friendly Community Building process was great. The feedback from community members was fantastic and has made a difference in how I, at the city level, have looked at the needs in the community. Also, without the improvements made to our community center, we would not have been as successful in getting our community meal project going. Making the facility more age friendly has made a positive impact on other civic groups that use the community center, as well. I would definitely recommend the Age-Friendly Community Building process to another community, not just for grant purposes, but to get the community together to discuss the strengths and weaknesses in the area.”
Throughout the process, an Age-Friendly Community Work Plan has been developed that includes short-term and long-term outcomes. Specific strategies, supporting activities, timelines and measures or indicators of success were also included. Activities were documented, including inputs and outputs, throughout the grant period. Evaluation was an on-going process that included regular review of the indicators of success and measuring the progress made toward achieving the outcomes. Changes to the work plan were documented in order to determine what worked, what could have been done differently and what modifications could be used to improve the process a community takes to enhance its age-friendliness. Finally, utilizing all of this information, MNRAAA is developing a step-by-step guide that other rural communities can follow to enhance their age-friendliness.