Aging in the Hood: Small Grants/Big Impact

January 29, 2010

January 29, 2010

Sitting in Buffalo Airport, waiting to return to Hoosierland having spent two fascinating days with citizens of 6 Buffalo and 2 rural Western New York neighborhoods. Called the Neighborhoods (Aging in Place) Initiative, the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York is supporting these grass roots groups with small grants to tackle real issues affecting seniors striving to age in place amongst their neighbors.

While I’ll likely be remembered as the idiot from Indiana who didn’t bring a coat to Buffalo, my role was to convene discussion around methods to engage stakeholders, including seniors and kids, with issues of aging in place. This was followed by small group meetings and a tour of several Buffalo neighborhoods. The diverse group of neighborhoods range from low income neighborhoods struggling with disinvestment and deteriorating housing stock, to middle class, first ring districts with fantastic 100 year old late Victorian and arts and crafts residences. Buffalo has outstanding architecture and landscaping, including work by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, and Frederick Law Olmstead. Rural communities participating in the project include the village of Springville, in the town of Concord (a distinction in government units I was not aware of), and Pulteney, near Corning, south of Buffalo.

The neighborhoods have received $15,000 each to mount grass-roots organizing efforts to mobilize citizens and organizations around selected “indicators” drawn from the AdvantAge Initiative “four domains” model of an elder-friendly community. Their work will range from snow shoveling to weatherization; from transportation to relationship building – the kind of concrete goals that represent the marvelous ways that neighbors can support one another. I came away with much admiration for the creativity and compassion of these neighborhood community organizers- not a bad word in my lexicon!

I am excited by the national trend to support ground up planning and action in the field of aging. This can only help suplement the great work that agencies on aging and other service providers struggle to keep up with – a struggle that will never end for there will never be enough money for the government sector to address the needs.

The Administration on Aging is coming around to the same conclusion and, as a consequence, experimenting itself with new models for aging in place that spread the responsibilities beyond the traditional aging service network. Earlier in the week, as a member of the Technical Assistance Group, I had the pleasure of participating in the first meeting of the National Advisory Council for the AoA Community Innovations for Aging in Place project, which supports pilots in 14 cities and towns around the U.S., ranging from highly urban to highly rural. The shift in perspective from services to individuals to community development and organizing will be a fascinating thing to watch. What will be the role of Area Agencies on Aging in the future if they are to incorporate community development into their operational capacities? Are there other as yet undefined hybrid organizations out there that will provide leadership for the integrated, convergent strategic planning and action that will break down the siloes (transportation, housing, health care, land use) which, disconnected, preclude a more wholistic approach to aging in place?

As they say, we live in interesting times. Too bad this comes at just the moment when scarce resources dampen creativity, grand ideas, and national unity. What is different now, when compared to the 30’s, when grand ideas were just what the doctor ordered? I fear we have lost the memory of those times when we need it the most. You elders out there who lived through the depression…. we need your testimony!!! ( see my blog dated

Aging in Northern Colorado

January 25, 2010

Folks in Larimer County, Colorado (including Fort Collins, Loveland, Estes Park) got things going on Friday with a rousing Summit on Aging that drew 170 citizens. The Foundation on Aging is serving as a catalyst and convener to bring to the table a discussion of the changing demographic and its impact on the cities and towns of the county. Afternoon groups brainstormed issues, themes and potential opportunities around transportation, supportive services, housing, and health care.

Fort Collins has a different development pattern, it appears, than Boulder, where a “green belt” provided a full-stop to development in favor of infill opportunities and a denser, more urban pattern of growth. While the downtown Fort Collins area is compact and quite beautiful, as Boulder, there is a good deal of surburban sprawl and, essentially, what may become strip development all the way south to Denver. As in Boulder, a major university (Colorado State) is in close proximity to the downtown area, certainly adding to its vitality and urbanity.

As most know, the growth boundary in Boulder has contributed greatly to the high cost of living there. It must be prohibitive for most lower income seniors, though the city has done a great job of requiring % low income units in new development, enabling lower income individuals to stay in the heart of the city. I am not aware of a similar requirement in Fort Collins. I was thrilled to come upon the Northern Hotel in Fort Collins, a striking white, art deco building that sits on a sharp corner downtown. Great place for senior housing I thought. So I ventured into the lobby and, to my pleasant surprise, was told that, indeed, The Northern Hotel was rehabbed for income eligible seniors. Yet, looking around the downtown at the totally gentrified neighborhood of fine shops, galleries, coffee parlors, restaurants, bike shops, etc., I suspected that the low income seniors living in the Northern Hotel are essentially priced out of participating in the life of the downtown center. As Starbucks occupies the ground floor of the Northern Hotel, I wandered in and asked the barista if they offered a discount on coffee for the seniors living upstairs. “Well, no, we don’t, he replied.” It wouldn’t be a decision we could make in this store. It would have to go all the way up to ‘corporate’.” Something wrong with this picture, I would say.

I was  impressed by the citizens in Larimer County. It likely deserves its reputation as a great place to retire. With the citizen activism I observed, it’s going to even better, for seniors of all abilities and incomes.

For a bit of news on the project, my slide presentation, etc., visit

Philanthropy and Aging

January 8, 2010

Through the leadership of the Indiana Grantmakers Alliance and support from Grantmakers in Aging, local EngAgement Initiative Networks are now being established by nine Indiana (county) Community Foundations and their partners. I had the pleasure of sitting in on yesterday’s first teleconference to hear about local plans to engage community stakeholders and explore the implications for philanthropy of Indiana’s changing age demographics. I was delighted to hear that project leaders are aware of the two-sided nature of this coin, if you will. They are sincere in wanting to address needs of the current population of vulnerable elders while, at the same time, aware of the opportunities to tap the significant resources in social and monetary capital represented by the current and future population of elders.

Thanks to the Lilly Endowment, Indiana is unique in having developed an incredible philanthropic infrastructure that now sees community foundations established in every one of 92 counties!  Not only does this provide the mechanism for building endowments at the local level, but it also provides an avenue for large foundations to move money down easily to local communities, knowing that the local funder is capable, accountable, and connected to local interests.

I have a particular fondness for local foundations that emphasize their potential and role as “convenors” – using their neutrality and their skills to facilitate the bringing together of diverse stakeholders to address common community issues and problems. Not being service providers themselves, they can’t be accused of feathering their own caps, as long as they do indeed maintain their neutrality and their whole community orientation.

A recent survey of local foundations in Indiana conducted by Indiana Grantmakers did discover that aging issues are somewhat “down the list” on funding agendas. A survey of 276 foundations, with 69 responding, indicated that only 22% of the respondents agreed that aging issues were a priority for their organization. Fewer than half believed that they have a strong understanding of the actual issues facing our aging population.

Through the EngAgement Initiative, however, this situation is likely to change. It is spurred logically from the realization that in Indiana and elsewhere, we are in the midst of a significant transfer of wealth from one generation to the next. According to the Workforce Wise report, released in December of 2009, “$412 billion will pass from one Indiana generation to the next by 2050. Focusing on the next 10 years, it is estimated that Indiana’s transfer of wealth opportunity is $66 billion. If just 5% of the $66 billion in the next 10 years were to be invested in community endowments across Indiana, more than $3.3 billion in philanthropic assets could be created. Assuming the usual 5% annual payout rate of many grantmakers, more than $164 million would be available annually for community grantmaking.” (to see the report visit the Workforce Wise website. )

In Indiana and in many communities throughout the U.S. (South Bend, IN , Muncie, IN, Indianapolis, IN, Contra Costa, CA, Fort Collins, CO, Chicago, IL, Winter Park, FLA, Grand Rapids, MI just to name a few), community and private foundations have played extremely significant roles not merely in funding aging services but in bringing the entire aging and lifespan agenda into public focus and helping develop long range community plans that address needs and tap the potential of current and future elders. Philanthropy in aging needs to go way beyond the “we need a new van phase” if it is to play a serious role in helping create aging friendly communities. The experiences and contributions of the above-named cities demonstrate that we can certainly get there if we try.

For more information about the Indiana EngAgement Initiative and the Grantmakers in Aging project, visit the new IGA website.



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