Embarking on the county’s first Master Aging Plan for a healthier, purposeful future
By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
Older adults are living longer, healthier and more productive lives. I’m glad, especially since my 50th birthday is right around the corner. My mom is 70, and she remains active and engaged in her community. We are all aging, but that isn’t a bad thing – it is an extension of the lives we live now and should be treated as such.
The population of older adults in New Hanover County is expected to have an increase change of 54% by 2036. That isn’t too far off, so we need to make sure our programs and services match the needs of our growing aging community – and what one person needs at 50 is different than what another needs at 90.
That’s why I’m pleased the county’s Senior Resource Center is embarking on its first five-year Master Aging Plan, to develop a comprehensive and coordinated approach that supports and fosters lifelong community engagement and well-being for everyone in our community. It’s the first aging plan in the county and the first in the Cape Fear region, and has been led by Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman because she, along with our board, recognizes and understands the importance of serving our older adults well – now and into the future.
To kick-off this initiative, we have launched a survey for the community to participate in, which you can find here. I hope you’ll take it, share your thoughts and concerns about aging, what you feel like the county is doing well or needs to improve on, and what your vision for the future of aging looks like.
Having a growing senior population is a benefit for our region. The contributions of older adults to society strengthen our community, through volunteering, mentoring, and charitable activities. And most seniors seek to remain engaged and contributing as long as possible, which is something we want to encourage even more.
Keeping older adults in our county, and attracting new retirees, is also an economic force. According to AARP’s Longevity Economy Outlook, the 50-plus population contributed $8.3 trillion in economic activity to the U.S. economy in 2018 and this will more than triple to $28.2 trillion by 2050. The outlook also found that in 2018, the 50-plus age demographic contributed $2.1 trillion in tax revenue, made up of $1.4 trillion in federal taxes and $645 billion in state and local taxes – a figure that will increase four times by 2050.
So the Master Aging Plan will be a foundation for aging services as we move forward, to ensure we are enhancing the quality of life in our county for everyone. It will be a collaborative plan, implemented by the Senior Resource Center in partnership with an aging coalition of community nonprofits, healthcare providers, and private organizations, to make sure there are collaborative systems and resources in place for seniors to age well – here in our community – and not have to miss a beat.
That may mean concentrating on accessible healthcare, housing, transportation, nutrition services, recreation opportunities, or anything in between. We’ll know what those focus areas are once our team compiles the surveys and conducts in-depth community assessments through stakeholder interviews, focus groups, and community meetings.
But I am sure of one thing – it will be a plan that helps meet the needs for all. It will be inclusive, create accessible and much-needed resources and services, and encourage our older adults to stay active, connected, and engaged in our community.
The county’s Senior Resource Center does phenomenal work serving more than 29,000 adults every year, primarily those over 55. They provide nutrition services, home delivered meals, medical transportation, congregate meals (which – since March of this year – has been a drive thru meal service for anyone over 60), one-on-one social work services, advocacy, free tax preparation, and much more.
Right now, the center’s building isn’t open because of COVID-19 safety precautions, but when their doors are open, they are a recreation center, a respite from social isolation, and a convener of clubs, support groups, and nutrition classes. They provide essential support services to seniors, and their impact is considerable.
Most recently, with the support of the board, the Senior Resource Center underwent a $1.7 million renovation project to better serve our older adults. That has been a strategic project to help us serve more people, in better ways that are adaptable and accessible for everyone. You can learn more about that project and take a virtual tour of the building here.
So now we are embarking on another strategic project – the Master Aging Plan – and I hope you will share your input to help us plan and make sure we have the right resources in place for all of us as we age, with purpose, here in New Hanover County.
The plan is expected to take shape over the next seven months, and will then be presented to the Board of Commissioners in May of 2021 – so stay tuned to learn what our community wants and needs for a healthier, age-friendly future.