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Sustainable Age-Friendly Communities

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What Roles Can Grantmakers Play?


Barbara R. Greenberg, President, The Philanthropic Group (NY) and Coordinator of the GIA initiative, Funders for Age-Friendly Communities


Jeanne Anthony, Senior Project Manager for Education and Outreach, AARP (DC) 

Martha Peláez, Executive Director, Health Foundation of South Florida 



Moderator Barbara Greenberg described the focus of this session as “sustainable age-friendly communities.”  She encouraged funders to consider supporting adjustments to the physical and social environment that improve the day-to-day quality of life for older adults and that last long beyond the end of their grants. These include, among others, collaborations with local government and regional planning organizations that lead to age- and disability-friendly policies and practices in zoning, transportation, housing, walkable streets, and accessible parks.      

Martha Peláez described the shift from short-term, ad hoc projects to sustainable initiatives whose objectives overlap with those of strategic partners. Peláez also discussed educating business and civic leaders in South Florida to raise awareness about aging and said that the Health Foundation of South Florida will be holding an age-friendly summit with selected leaders.

Jeanne Anthony discussed how AARP broadened its issue focus while deepening domestic relationships through projects in Texas and Georgia. In Texas, AARP coordinated a partnership that connected experts at the University of Texas campus with a population deeply in need of assistance. In Georgia, AARP representatives supported a local coalition to restore a dilapidated park in order to provide an example of an age-friendly space.

Greenberg presented two handouts created for Grantmakers In Aging as part of the Funders for Age-Friendly Communities initiative. The first, Selected Opportunities for Funders Interested in Age-Friendly Communities, displays, by state, the age-friendly communities that are part of five national models: W.H.O., AdvantAGE, AARP, N4A, and Grantmakers In Aging. Also, regional planning organizations active in aging are listed to point out opportunities for funders to collaborate in creating sustainable change that benefits older people.  

The second handout, Building Great Communities, describes age-friendly community assessment tools recommended by funders. This resource is a matrix that gives an overview of five tools, including the pros, cons, and costs of each. It also conveys which ones work best for what type of community.

Age-Friendly Community Successes in South Florida
According to Martha Peláez, the Health Foundation of South Florida (HFSF) has gone through significant transition in the past seven years. Funding has shifted from a project-by-project focus to a model that is more connected with sustainable community initiatives. Peláez described the history of the Miami-Dade County Age Friendly Initiative, which is now in its third year. HFSF partnered with Grantmakers In Aging’s Community AGEnda initiative, and the Pfizer Foundation, and local partners to create the Miami-Dade Age-Friendly initiative. The initiative focuses on creating a physical and social environment for older adults to stay active and healthy.

The HFSF did not conduct a formal community assessment but rather brought together agencies and stakeholders who had done their own assessments and knew the community. This coalition included representatives from the county, the mayor’s office, elected officials, the Area Agency on Aging, and United Way. They assembled a robust steering committee including two major universities to help build an action plan. They also conducted needs assessments with Little Havana town hall meetings, and older adults in the community participated in assessing their own community needs. They anticipate conducting a county assessment as they execute their year-three plan.

They focused both on short-term projects and changes to county policy, as well as long-term changes to the county master plan and the county’s transportation plan. One of these short-term projects focused on parks, many of which had lots of activities for children but few for older adults. The group completed an assessment of the parks and generated recommendations about accessibility, programming, and infrastructure changes (e.g. benches and lighting) to make the parks more age-friendly. 

They also looked at employment to see if they could bring greater visibility to older workers in the local business community. They had some modest success in that area and learned more about what the business community’s workforce needs. Collaborators included ReServe, a nonprofit that connects businesses with older professionals, and the Chamber of Commerce. In Little Havana, the coalition also created the Age-Friendly Business District.

Now in its third year, the HFSF coalition is focusing on sustainability to ensure continued progress and has chosen five agencies to lead an executive decision-making group. They are also focusing on educating business and civic leaders in the county to raise awareness about aging and are holding an age-friendly summit with selected leaders.

How the AARP Broadened Its Focus

Jeanne Anthony explained how the AARP has expanded its work in the area of age-friendly communities. In 2012 AARP became the U.S. affiliate for the World Health Organization (WHO) global network, in order to help expand and engage the focus of the organization’s work.

Anthony described a sustainable technical assistance project with Macon-Bibb County, Georgia, where AARP evaluated how to rejuvenate a historical park in downtown Macon that had fallen into disrepair. Bordered by an elementary school, a senior center, a university, and low-income housing, AARP collaborated with local NGOs, particularly the Friends of Tattnall Square Park, to make it a focal point in the community. After just over two years, the city has added roundabouts for traffic calming, the elementary school now has access to the park for recess and physical education, and the senior center participants can access it. The Friends wrote another grant and planted 200 trees, installed benches, and added programming in the park.

Brownsville, Texas has one of the highest rates of poverty, obesity, and diabetes among adults and children in the United States. The AARP helped the community identify ways to revitalize the downtown and build links between the University of Texas at Brownsville campus and downtown via an alley and coffee shops. They have also made commitments to increasing physical activity and have closed certain streets for cycling days and regular farmers markets.

Regarding community assessments, Jeanne noted that part of the work required to create an age-friendly community is to conduct an assessment. The AARP assessment tool addresses individuals over age 50 and asks questions regarding eight domains of perception of their presence in the community. If resources are limited, then the community can separate the assessment into manageable parts through community consultations or town hall meetings. This is especially helpful when dealing with diverse constituencies.

Funding Opportunities for Grantmakers

Grantmakers could consider funding:

  • Local AARP Livable Communities initiative: Older adults are part of the solution! Consider a small grant to fund walkability assessments conducted by older adults and develop and follow-through on recommendations for improvements such as well-maintained sidewalks and curbs, benches, or traffic lights set to allow longer crossing time.    
  • Regional planning organization: Fund a study of mobility options for older and disabled adult. Create a website to link riders with all potential public and nonprofit transportation options. Provide travel training for older adults on how to use existing public transportation to their favorite places and special events.   
  • Town or County Parks Department: Fund the planning and redesign of an existing park to make it accessible and enjoyable for people of all abilities.


More information

Health Foundation of South Florida
The Philanthropic Group



AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities Introduction

Age-Friendly Initiative Fact Sheet

Building Great Communities: Consider an Age-Friendly Community Assessment

Selected Opportunities for Funders Interested in Age-Friendly Communities



Age-Friendly Communities: Which Government and Planning Organizations Should You Choose as Collaborators?

Strategies and Tactics for Selling the Benefits of an Age-Friendly Community


“This 2015 GIA Conference Highlight is brought to you through the generous support of The SCAN Foundation.”