Carbondale group hopes to spark elder-friendly revolution in valley
A group of Carbondale seniors is not waiting around for other people to make their lives easier.
What the Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative has done in the past six months might seem small now. But after forming in January, they have caused quite a stir and have started inspiring others in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The group has marshaled dozens of volunteers to distribute bicycle bells to encourage safety on shared pathways. They worked with the Department of Transportation to extend the audible walk signal for the crosswalk at a busy intersection on Highway 133.
They’re working with the town of Carbondale to install new benches along some paths (CAFCI will purchase the benches through grants and donations, and the town will install them).
And, they’ve joined the AARP’s list of age-friendly communities.
Carbondale’s AARP designation is unique. Most of the time, it’s the government working through the AARP’s age-friendly program, but CAFCI is spearheading the effort for Carbondale.
“We don’t see ourselves as doing everything, we see ourselves as a connector, as a catalyst,” said Judie Blanchard, one of CAFCI’s founding members.
The successes in a short period of time are helpful, and CAFCI is only just getting started. But the real revolution is in the group’s approach to the problems facing seniors in small and rural towns.
“I think it’s exciting to watch a group of seniors get together, see a problem, propose solutions, and actually work with the community to solve it,” said Judy Martin, manager of Garfield County’s senior program.
The population of people over 65 years of age is expected to increase by 60 percent over the next 10 years, according to the Greater Roaring Fork Regional Housing Study, released in April.
With more older folks in the area, there will be more need for local towns to be walkable, with good transportation options, affordable housing, access to medical care, and so on.
CAFCI member Ron Kokish is clear-eyed and frank about the issues.
“It’s a problem for us, because as we grow older we need more and more stuff. And it’s a problem for the people behind us, because we didn’t make enough of them — There’s less and less of them to take care of this large aging population,” Kokish said.
Demanding services from the government is fraught with conflict, Kokish said, so CAFCI has a better approach.
“We don’t have the solution to all those problems. But our approach is: We’re not all disabled and senile yet. As long as we can, we need to contribute to the solutions to those problems for our own sake as well as society’s sake,” Kokish said.
That’s the approach Martin would like to encourage elsewhere in the region.
“One of my hopes is to have similar groups in each of the cities and towns throughout the county,” Martin said.
The Garfield County commissioners have also signed a letter of support to seek AARP’s age-friendly designation, and Martin is finalizing the application.
Pitkin and Eagle counties are already members, as is the state of Colorado. The AARP provides resources to audit an area’s age-friendliness and implement improvement plans over five years.
Niki Delson, another founding CAFCI member, welcomes the involvement of seniors from other towns in the grassroots approach.
“Our goal is to become a network of age-friendly communities up and down the Roaring Fork Valley — not just age-friendly in name, but in reality — so that all we’re working together and talking together,” Delson said.
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