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Residents making Keene an age-friendly community

Clearing snow from the sidewalk in Keene Valley earlier this week (Provided photo — Martha Allen)

KEENE VALLEY — More than 25% of the residents of the town of Keene are over 65, and another 15% are between the ages of 55 and 65, according to the United States Census. The median age in Keene is 50.

So says Jeannie Cross, group leader of Keene’s AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) Age-Friendly Community Network Task Force. As she points out, age friendly means friendly to all ages; and being AARP based, the network definitely takes the needs and preferences of older residents into consideration.

AARP Network Task Force members are Teresa Cheetham-Palen, Monique Weston, Suzie Doolittle, Milton Dudley, Melissa Eisinger, Dennis Gallagher, Carolyn Petersen, Barbara Strowger and Peg Wilson. Keene’s application for enrollment in the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Cities was accepted in July 2021. The task force is basically continuing the work of the Keene Strategic Planning Committee, under AARP Network guidelines. The task force will take two years to assess the needs of the community and develop a corresponding action plan.

There is no charge for membership in the AARP Network, and planning is still carried on at the local level, answering local needs. The AARP provides expertise and resources, sharing its information, education and research and allows communities within the network to exchange and combine their experience in working to become more age-friendly.

As Peg Wilson explained, the network helps planners to collect information, assessing the community’s specific needs as well as its assets, and then to look to other communities to see what they have done to solve some of the same or similar problems. Planning is not all about finding new solutions, she explained. Maintaining assets that make the community livable is also important.

Cross concurred, referring to the available community health services, uncommon in a town of Keene’s size and population.

“Very few towns our size have primary care right in town,” she said. “Mountain Health Center is a jewel.” She mentioned the new physician, Dr. Lindsey Wilhelm, and Devon McCabe, the new nurse practitioner, at the clinic. Hospital and emergency care are also available relatively nearby, she added.

Keene’s task force is now creating a survey in order to learn what is important to town residents to allow them to thrive as they age. Some of the survey questions were selected from a list supplied by the AARP network because the task force considered them relevant to the Keene community. COVID has interfered with the process, slowing it down, but the survey will probably be available to the public by the end of January.

Keene Valley Library Director Karen Glass has agreed to dispense surveys at the library and collect them for the task force after they have been completed, Cross said. The survey may also be available on the social media platform Nextdoor Keene, and at Keene churches.

In creating their Community Action Plan, Keene’s task force will follow what the AARP terms “The eight domains of livability:”

1. Outdoor Spaces and Buildings: Public gathering places, indoors and out, are important for people of all ages.

2. Transportation: Pedestrians need walkways and safe, crossable streets. Dedicated bicycle lanes benefit everyone, and public transit options are convenient and expand opportunities.

3. Housing: AARP surveys consistently find that the vast majority of older adults want to stay in their own homes or communities as long as they can.

4. Social Participation: Opportunities to socialize help to prevent isolation and resultant depression.

5. Respect and Social Inclusion: Intergenerational gatherings and activities are emotionally healthy for all ages, according to AARP research.

6. Work and Civic Engagement: “An age-friendly community encourages older people to be actively engaged in community life and has opportunities for residents to work for pay or volunteer their skills,” according to AARP Network guidelines.

7. Communication and Information: There are now many ways to communicate, and people have differing communication preferences and skills.

8. Community and Health Services: Accessible and affordable medical medical care is important for people of all ages.

The new survey will include such questions as “What’s important to you that we didn’t cover?”

“When we get it back, we’ll use it to develop plans in various domains,” Cross said. “(Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson) says he’ll use it to develop budgets going forward.”

Cross smiled, telling how Keene was singled out for praise by Greg Olsen, acting director for the state Office for the Aging.

“It’s sort of amazing-we’ve gotten statewide attention. … Greg Olsen shouted out … that Keene is the only Age-Friendly Community in the Adirondacks. … He gave us great kudos! Those connections will be very helpful to us as we go forward.”