At age 74 – “but Type A” – Augusta Commission member Bill Lockett might stand to benefit personally from a push to make Augusta “Age Friendly.”
But it’s not about that, he said.
“I’ve always had a fondness in my heart for seniors,” said the retired educator, federal employee and service member. “Our seniors contribute so much to this country.”
On a recent visit to Macon, Lockett said, he was astounded to learn that the middle Georgia city was one of just a handful in the U.S. to attain an “Age-Friendly” designation from both AARP and the World Health Organization, and he wanted the same for his city.
At a work session Thursday, most city department heads and several interested senior citizens got an idea of what that means.
Myrtle Habersham, a member of AARP’s Georgia executive council from Macon, said her city’s mayor and commission provided “an automatic yes” when presented with the idea as a way to “attract and retain that population.”
More than 40 million Americans were 65 or older in the 2010 census, she said, and men are living an average of 83 years and women 85.
The 65-plus population represents 11.3 percent of Augusta’s residents, and meeting their needs is good for all ages, said Karen Cooper, AARP’s associate state director for community outreach.
“What’s good for an 80-year-old is also good for an 8-year-old,” Cooper said.
Seniors have, on average, two chronic disabilities, so ensuring that facilities comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act is a good start.
From there, attaining the designation, which took Macon nine months, means drafting a resolution of support and establishing a citizens advisory committee to create a “robust and concrete plan of action that responds to the needs of older adults in the community,” she said.
That plan would seek guidance from a survey of the seniors’ needs – whether transportation, heath, nutrition, housing, communications, even social media needs.
For instance, a Macon library offered a social media class, teaching seniors that they could have a Facebook page and interact with their younger peers, Cooper said. Also, the city added a ramp to a public pool that immediately enhanced access, she said.
Georgia Regents University student Georgia Meriwether, a senior citizen finishing a degree in social work, said that her baby boomer generation was “the most educated demographic in the United States. We are going to two and three careers. I look forward to continuing to give, and be a member of a productive society.”
Still, many pockets of Augusta are unfriendly to seniors, lacking sidewalks, outdoor areas and transportation, keeping seniors homebound, she said.
The program wouldn’t guarantee efforts in every part of town, but it would set an example for other areas to follow, Cooper said.
In Macon, input from the community led to the creation of additional bus stops along a route so more neighborhoods had access, she said.
The program has no up-front cost, requiring just a commitment to review plans, “making sure you’re also looking … to see if it is being age-friendly.”
Benefits of the designation include publication in AARP’s widely distributed newsletter, she said.
Most of the department heads who attended Thursday’s meeting said they could think of ways to make their departments more age-friendly.
Gary LeTellier, the executive director of Augusta Regional Airport, said it is hoping to increase shuttle service from its parking lots and improve passenger access to planes by adding loading bridges.
“If everybody could get on board like that it would be a lot easier,” he said.
The solid waste department can provide assisted pickup for seniors who want to live at home but no longer can push their garbage carts to the curb, Lockett said.
“We don’t want to go to no nursing home. We want to be able to live in our homes,” he said. “If we’re going to spend probably the rest of our lives here, why not make it the best community it can be?”