By Todd Etshman
In December, the Monroe County Aging Alliance became a joint initiative between the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes.
Leading the alliance are representatives from each organization: United Way consultant Leanne Rorick and Patricia Campbell, former senior director of the Rochester Area Community Foundation’s community programs department.
Rorick is principal of Leanne Rorick Consulting and a research assistant for Cornell University’s Institute for Translational Research on Aging, where she provides training to long-term care facilities. We recently chatted with her.
Q: What is the new Monroe County Aging Alliance and how is it different from the former MCAA?
A: The Monroe County Aging Alliance has been an active consortium since its formation in 2012. What is different is that it now has a formal designation as a joint initiative of Rochester Area Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes. The Community Foundation was its initial convener, but in recent years the two organizations have served as co-conveners.
The Aging Alliance’s mission to use our collective power to create a community where people age well is unchanged.
Q: What will be the role of the MCAA partners going forward?
A: The alliance is a consortium of many partners, all committed to supporting older adults.
Other community partners and organizations support our work by weighing in with expertise in their area of specialty, partnering with us on projects and working alongside our members to implement community programming that supports a more age-friendly Monroe County and city of Rochester.
Q: Can you explain some of the initiatives MCAA will work on and how they can help make a more age-friendly community?
A: The Alliance has three areas of focus:
•Age-friendly/Livable Community Initiative
The first is our commitment to make Rochester and Monroe County a more age-friendly, livable community. Eight domains of livability have been identified: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information and; community support and health services
• Poverty in Later Life
Recognizing the devastating impact of poverty on older adults in our community and particularly in the city of Rochester where one in five older adults live below 100% of the Official Poverty Measure, our team collaborated with Lifespan of Greater Rochester in 2021 to produce a report that highlights the issue and provides policy recommendations to better support the economic security of older people. This issue is a priority area for the alliance and one we intend to continue to elevate, to advocate for changes that promote a level of economic security that, at a minimum, allows older adults to age well.
Ageism shapes the way we think about ourselves and others as we grow older. It negatively impacts health outcomes, contributes to health care costs and stifles the economy by limiting the participation of experienced older workers. The Reframing Aging Initiative seeks to address ageism by reframing the public’s understanding of what aging means and the many ways older people contribute to society.
We consider addressing ageism fundamental to the success of our Livable Community plan and have included it in our recommendations.
Q: How far does Monroe County have to go to be considered an age friendly community?
A: Great question! AARP provides a livability index tool that helps communities gauge their livability based on data sets that can be consistently measured across all US communities.
Our age-friendly plan was informed by older adults in Monroe County. Their perspectives in the next few years will help us understand if and how our community is becoming more age friendly.
We will be monitoring progress toward the recommendations in our plan and will post annual progress reports on our website over the next few years.
Q: Does MCAA have or need funding?
A: We are grateful to Monroe County and County Executive Adam Bello for a recent award of funding that will allow us to implement our age-friendly plan. The support of United Way and Rochester Area Community Foundation is critical to our on-going work, as well. Some recommendations in the age-friendly plan still require funding.
Q: As co-directors, what do you want to see accomplished in the short-run and the long-run?
A: In the short-term, we’re eager to see the community’s adoption of age-friendly principles and the implementation of the age-friendly plan. We will look for evidence that our reframing efforts are gaining a foothold and we’ll advocate for prioritization of and funding for programs that promote economic security for older adults, such as bill-paying, budgeting and programs that help people connect to HEAP and SNAP; funding for home modifications; more subsidized, accessible housing and infrastructure that supports an older adult workforce.
Q: What resources will you have besides one another; will there be a staff or others involved directly?
A: The alliance is an active consortium whose members engage directly in our work. Members have created workgroups to assist with the implementation of our age-friendly plan and provide their time and expertise in-kind to the projects we tackle together.
Q: Are there age friendly model communities we can look up to?
A: There are currently 716 communities in the US and more than 1,400 across the world that are engaged in this work so comparison can be a challenge.
With its overall Livability score of 67, Alexandria, Virginia, placed first among mid-sized cities. Rochester’s and Monroe County’s overall scores are currently 56.
Achieving a high livability score is challenging. To get a perfect score of 100, an area would have to be the best in the country in each of the livability categories. This is not easy—even for the best of communities.