From Linton to LaGrange, and New York City along the way

April 27, 2010

The Clearview Gardens Housing Coop in Queens could fit the entire population of LaGrange, Indiana within its complex, with room to spare. LaGrange, Indiana (pop. about 3,000), Linton, Indiana (pop. about 5,000) and Clearview Gardens (pop. about 4,500) are worlds apart along the rural-urban continuum, but next-door neighbors when it comes to their desire to enable elders to age in place. April travels to all three sites proved to me that there are some basic commonalities driving the aging in community movement. The vast majority of seniors do want to stay put, no matter where they live; the built environment provides major challenges; grass roots creativity may be the road to the future.

In Linton, Indiana, older citizens are taking to the streets in golf carts, saving lots of money and challenging traditional notions of transportation. Our on- line survey of mobility issues in Linton barely made it in time to help inform Mayor Tom Jone’s decision to sign a new ordinance supporting but regulating the use of golf carts in town. The survey results suggested a majority of citizens approve of the growing trend, while being very much in favor of regulations around public safety. Among 239 respondents to the on-line survey, 48 were current users of golf carts to get around. Another 109 respondents agreed they will consider using a golf cart in the next ten years. Wisely, the city of Linton is getting ready! Visit www.agingindiana.org  for the survey results. 

Linton, Indiana on-line survey prize winners, Mayor Tom Jones, NORC leaders (Daily World, T. Ferree photo)

In LaGrange, Indiana, grass roots creativity found its expression in a local group of citizens concerned about elders being stuck in their homes due to mobility limitations. With the leadership of local contractor Dave Clark, a small group of folks rounded up money and supplies to establish a “ramps program” enabling 19 older and disabled citizens to get in and out of their homes with ease. In a smart twist on the usual approach, this group decided to build the ramps in sections that could be easily dismantled and reassembled as needed.

LaGrange Aging in Place Committee members ready to greet summit participants

The Clearview Gardens Cooperative Housing project dates to 1949, when the first buildings were thrown up for returning veterans, who paid $50 a room to own their units – units that now have a price tag in the $250K range! Over the decades, continued building resulted in a project that covers 88 acres and houses nearly 4,500 individuals. With aging in place, naturally, there are over 1,200 seniors living in the community. This concentration of elders was the reason that three community leaders, several years ago, sought and received designation and funding to create a formal NORC – naturally occuring retirement community. NORC funding has enable the seniors to carve out valuable community space on the site and contract with the local YMCA for a NORC supportive services program. The wonderfully talented and dedicated staff of the program (two social workers and a nurse, primarily) work closely with residents to identify and respond to individual needs as well as create a broad array of communityprograms such as screenings, cultural offerings, and healthy aging activities. Their current grant through the Administration on Aging Community Innovations for Aging in Place project, administered in the city by the Dept. of  Aging, will enable the provision of evidence-based chronic disease self-management programs.

Despite the resilience and experience of the residents and the creativity of the staff, some pretty major challenges loom ahead – there is no internal transporation on the site and every single building is fronted by several stairs. Half of the units on the site are second story. I asked one lovely lady what she would do when (oops…if) she should develop a problem with … Not letting me finish my sentence, she asserted “That won’t happen!”  While I admire her grit, I have to wonder how realistic she is about the future. And even if her assertion comes true, as I certainly wish, the basic inaccessibility of the entire project is like the elephant in the room. Some creative thinking will have to come forth, along with some big bucks, I imagine. But, like the Linton seniors taking personal transportation into their own hands, I suspect the Clearview elders will figure it out.

Here's my fellow traveler Duane Etienne, CEO Emeritus of CICOA Aging and In Home Services, at the entrace to Clearview Gardens.

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