Posted by Kathy Burnes

I recently attended the annual American Society on Aging conference in San Francisco. Though at times overwhelmed by the numbers – over 4,000 participants and more than 1,200 workshops, posters, and general sessions – I left confident that the work JF&CS is doing with our Aging Well at Home initiatives is both exciting and timely. Why? Because more than one-quarter of the content of the conference concentrated on community-based programs. And that's what we were there to talk about.

My colleague Marsha Frankel, Clinical Director of Senior Services, and I presented a workshop - A Multi-Partner Model for Building an Aging Community for the Future – describing a community approach that involves older adults of all income levels and includes the multiple generations that now are part of the older population. From the civic and government's definition, seniors are defined as being age 60 or older, but obviously there is a huge difference between seniors in their 60s and those in their 90s, and most communities have both.

There is a wave of community-based experiments spreading across the United States, all centered on building effective systems to allow older adults to remain in the community. These initiatives are often defined by the economic circumstances of those who participate. A rare few are government funded, several others are grant-funded, and others are purely volunteer-driven. Others charge fees to join and additional fees for member services. Most of these initiatives focus on providing a range of services and programs to offer information; resources; access to existing services; educational, social, and physical activities; and help with chores, transportation, and other tasks when friends and family are not available.

In our workshop, Marsha and I outlined the factors that led to our success transitioning the JF&CS community-based demonstration project in a neighborhood of North Brookline into a sustainable town-wide program, Brookline Community Aging Network (BCAN). Front and center to that success has been a focus on tapping into and promoting the resources that already exist and working to make them available for everyone. As a founding partner in this project, we are able to share the three elements that proved so worthwhile in our demonstration project – the community liaison who visits residents in their homes and helps with hassle-busting chores and minor repairs; the warm houses for neighborhood residents to make connections and share resources; and the Envision Your Future educational programs to spread the word about ideas and resources for aging in place.

As our society ages, this lesson for the future makes it clear that precious financial and human capital should be used to benefit and involve the greatest number of community residents. I am very excited that JF&CS is a leader in this movement locally, and look forward to many more opportunities to share our experience and expertise.

Kathy Burnes is Project Manager of the JF&CS Geriatric Institute, which focuses on developing and implementing projects that translate research into community-based services. Prior to coming to JF&CS in 2007, she worked as a senior research associate at Boston College's Center for Corporate Citizenship, and at the National Center on Women and Aging at Brandeis University. Kathy also worked for AARP and Operation ABLE of Greater Boston. She has a BA from the University of Michigan and a MEd from Northeastern University.