The National Civic League is assisting four Colorado counties establish improved outreach to and engagement with ethnically and racially diverse older adult residents, who may not traditionally engage with government-driven community programs for older adults. Here’s more information about our approach and strategy.
In 2021-2022, the National Civic League’s program, “Enhancing the Equity and Inclusiveness of Age-friendly Initiatives”, received funding from NextFifty Initiative, a Colorado-based foundation that supports efforts to improve the lives of older adults and their caregivers. This funding will allow the League to continue its equity-in-aging civic assistance program, further advancing efforts to support those 50 and older in Colorado, and across the nation.
“Our goal is to transform the way our society views and experiences aging, and that influences the types of programs and projects we fund,” said Diana McFail, president and CEO of NextFifty Initiative. “National Civic League’s work with older adults aligns with our efforts to improve and sustain quality of life for people in their second 50 years.”
The League is building on the civic assistance program started in 2021 and continues to work with Colorado communities to better align issues of equity into communities’ engagement with residents. This focus supports the continuation of initiatives aimed at helping leaders of aging programs in Huerfano, Las Animas, Logan, Summit, and El Paso counties develop approaches that better engage and support age-friendly communities. The League is testing approaches of coaching, developing a learning exchange cohort, which is leading to the development of an Equitable Older Adult Engagement Best Practices and Resource Guide.
In the past two years, the League worked with a variety of stakeholders to co-create the “Enhancing the Equity and Inclusiveness of Age-friendly Initiatives” program. Colorado State Government offices, CSU Extension Program, county and city staff teams contributed to the program’s development, implementation, and promotion.
In addition to these partners, the program was also shaped by local thought leaders, including Innovations in Aging Collaborative, the Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging (SAPGA), and the Area Agencies on Aging directors in targeted counties.
This pilot program had two phases – Phase One: Guidance, and Phase Two: Local Coaching. Both segments concurrently began in January 2021, following a period of background research and conversations with the program partners, state and local organizations, and other aging professionals.
During the Guidance phase, the League conducted six equity training workshops for age-friendly communities and individuals working to improve the experience of aging. Workshop training included best practices on inclusively engaging older adults, applying an equity lens to aging work, training on racial equity foundations, and how to use the League’s updated evaluation tool – the Better Aging Civic Index – to measure a community’s level of engagement with older adults from all identities.
During the Local Coaching phase, the League worked with four focus communities. Three of the communities are members of Colorado AARP’s Age-Friendly network, and one community has joined with the goal to explore Age-Friendly designation. This phase has involved working with each focus community to apply an equity lens to their aging work and age-friendly planning, and to support each community to better engage with traditionally marginalized populations and those groups of older adults most often underrepresented in most civic affairs: communities of color, low-income populations, immigrant communities, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ communities.
“We agree that older adults from all walks of life, should be considered to be vital and valued in every community. Sometimes it can be more challenging to reach these populations. As we know, each community is unique and this program is designed to provide support and learning tools for four Colorado communities to broaden the opportunities for broader engagement, with eyes on equity and inclusion which can improve the experience of aging for older adults in communities,” said Benita Duran, Director of Equity and Engagement at the National Civic League.
“Funding from NextFifty Initiative allow us to continue to reaffirm the strengths and contributions of older adults, particularly in this time when older adults who desire to live independently have been further isolated and disengaged due to COVID and slowed recovery efforts in many communities throughout the state. It is important for communities’ health and sustainability to ensure that aging initiatives accomplish their goals of improving the lives of all older adults by engaging them in local and civic matters.”
Four Counties Approach the Issue In Different Ways – El Paso, Huerfano/Las Animas, Logan and Summit
Building on the civic assistance program started in 2021, the focus supports the continuation of initiatives aimed at helping leaders of aging programs in four selected counties: El Paso, Huerfano/Las Animas, Logan, and Summit. The focus is to help develop approaches that improve engagement with older adults, of BIPOC communities.
These four communities selected for participation in this program have had their set of unique challenges and approaches to addressing issues of equity and engagement of older adults in rural and geographically diverse communities. Approaches and strategies have been tested on a regular basis and before the end of 2022, each of these counties will have tailored an approach that has reached more diverse audiences in their respective county.
The timing and experiences of this collaboration can be of benefit to other communities as they engage in their state’s required aging area planning process. In Colorado, the plans for each regional unit are due in early 2023. These four-year plans inform the state’s overall reporting at the federal level and alignment of federal resource allocations. The timing of the initiative appears to be aligning with the USA Aging’s interest to have each state address “equity” in each state’s overall plan for services to aging populations.
The four communities involved here have adopted extensive outreach efforts, reaching out to residents at county fairs, listening sessions, focus groups and outdoor festivals to ask residents for their involvement in completing a survey about age-friendly interests and to learn about programs of the county.
Some of these communities have seen an influx of new older residents to these communities. Many new residents whose second homes became their first homes during the pandemic, have relocated to places like Summit County – where mountain towns of Breckenridge, Dillion, Frisco, Silverthorne are located. El Paso and Colorado Springs have seen new older residents involved in their public engagement processes throughout these past years of shaping their DEI visioning sessions and engaging community champions.
In contrast, Logan County, has only one central business center, Sterling, and most of the county extends in the northeastern plains region of the state. In this area, there is a reliance on fairs and public events to try to reach older adults of the town of Sterling and the steering committee, consisting of many volunteers took great care to map the outreach efforts to cover all parts of the town. This community also created a “engagement thermometer” in the town square to measure and celebrate survey responses as they came in. Special efforts to reach Spanish-speaking older adults have been tested and the group is hosting its first Spanish-language focus group session in early October. This is a new level of engagement and one that the CSU Regional Extension Team is willing to try to engage and build more awareness and trust between governmental systems and its residents. Huerfano and Las Animas Counties have their unique challenges with older adults and a culture of independent living. In many communities in southern Colorado, elders who identify as Chicanos and/or of Spanish descent, pride themselves in living alone in their homes – where they have lived and thrived for decades. In places like Walsenburg, ‘meeting people where they are ‘ IS the only way to further engagement.
Here are a couple of the common challenges observed in the counties.
- Bi-lingual communication – written and spoken
Most communities have used (or are using) a survey – print and on-line – to gain input from their community members. Many of the counties focused efforts to Spanish-speaking residents and recognized early that surveys would need to be in English and Spanish, and the responses that were in Spanish would need to be translated for data recording as well. Survey findings would also need to be available in Spanish and English. Events need to have Spanish speaking volunteers and staff members to communicate and build trust with residents who prefer to communicate in Spanish. The issues are not uncommon or unique to any one county, but can be easily overlooked and not budgeted for when doing engagements of this nature.
- Time pressures, virtual realities and volunteer limitations.
While communities and their county administrators are making great strides in recovery efforts throughout the state, it is evident that there are challenges of staffing and support systems. In the pre-Covid era, this wasn’t necessarily the case. It seems that programs related to aging have had a heavy reliance on volunteers for support and this is becoming a greater challenge as people are not as willing or able to give their time ‘for free,’ and are less inclined to zoom in for committee meetings.
EQUITY TIES INTO THE STATE’S AGING AREA PLANS FOR THE NEXT FOUR YEARS
Each community in Colorado is beginning work on their county or region’s area plans, which are due in March 2023. These plans are four-year plans for senior services programming. The work the National Civic League is doing today is helping to shape responses to the “Equity” section of the plans.
In Colorado’s state’s planning document (SUA PD 22-05 Area Plan and Instructions), there is a new addition to the plan – Equity. There are eight examples suggested to respond to the topic.
Section VII: Equity:
“Describe plans and include objectives and the measures (data elements and sources) that you will use to demonstrate your progress towards building equity and inclusion in your region.”
The examples for responding to the topic range from “engagement in outreach with older adults,” to “ensuring meals can be adjusted for cultural considerations and preferences” to “supporting cultural experiences, activities and services, including in the arts.
What we are learning through this process of these four counties can help broaden the outreach and engagement with an equity lens and make it possible for all area plans to have a solid equity component that is highlighted in all regions of the state.
It’s a very exciting and challenging time–working on age-friendly community and capacity building. As we know, each community is unique and this program is designed to provide support and learning tools for communities to broaden the opportunities for valuable engagement, with eyes on equity and inclusion which can improve the experience of aging for older adults in communities.