Emily Greenfield, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Her scholarship aims to support efforts to improve social environments for diverse populations of older adults and families. Her areas of scholarly expertise include age-friendly community initiatives, aging-in-place supportive service programs, civic engagement in later life, and the lifelong effects of family violence in childhood. She uses a range of methodologies in her work, including secondary analysis of quantitative data, in-depth qualitative interviewing, and collecting new survey data. Her research with service providers, older individuals, and family caregivers has received funding from several private foundations, as well as the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Context Matters: Age-Friendly Initiatives across Diverse New Jersey Communities
Age-friendly community initiatives (AFCIs) are deliberate efforts to create local community changes to benefit midlife and older residents. AFCIs are facilitated by partnerships and collaborations, have the potential to improve the community for people of all ages, and are distinctly not a one-size-fits-all model for all communities. Program champions have long-time recognized that local context does, and should, influence the processes and outcomes of each initiative’s work. This session seeks to strategically explore this aspect of AFCIs by convening a panel of AFCI leaders from New Jersey. New Jersey, located in the northeast corner of the U.S., is an especially interesting setting to explore similarities and differences across initiatives given its small size, yet high concentration of residents with great diversity. Nestled between Philadelphia and New York City, New Jersey varies in its geography, income levels, nationalities, and race/ethnicity. It also has a culture of “home rule” with an especially large number of autonomous municipalities, which makes local change efforts simultaneously challenging and promising. The session will begin with an overview of a local grant-making initiative to support the development of AFCIs in northern New Jersey. Then, leaders of AFCIs within four different communities across two counties will share their experiences of developing their initiatives within their local contexts. Commonalities to be addressed include selecting collective actions that bring diverse stakeholders together; drawing on networks of strength among local organizations and individual residents; developing channels for sharing information within the community; and actively engaging with a professional network of age-friendly leaders outside of one’s own community. The presentations also will highlight how AFCIs recognize and tailor efforts based on community characteristics, such as the local political climate, existing channels for community-wide communication, and local culture around inter-organizational collaboration and public-private partnerships. A discussant will discuss the implications of the presenters’ remarks for a global movement to sustain, evaluate, expand, and strengthen age-friendly efforts.
The first presentation will provide an overview of age-friendly efforts in New Jersey. Similar to many other places in the U.S., private philanthropies have been championing the development of age-friendly community initiatives in New Jersey. This presentation will provide an overview of the efforts of two such philanthropies—the Grotta Fund for Senior Care and the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation. These organizations engage in grant-making in aging within adjacent catchment areas in northern New Jersey. The philanthropies began partnering on a multi-year grantmaking program in 2015 to support the planning and implementation of nine age-friendly community initiatives in northern New Jersey, which are in their second year of implementation. Recognizing the breadth and depth of skills and knowledge that age-friendly work demands, the philanthropies have gone beyond the traditional role of grantmakers by serving as active partners and technical assistance providers to the initiatives. The presenters will describe their experiences with purposefully supporting the development of age-friendly community initiatives across diverse community contexts, as well as “lessons learned” and visions for the future of age-friendly community initiatives in New Jersey and beyond
The second presentation will present age-friendly efforts in Englewood, located in Bergen County, New Jersey. Englewood is an ethnically, racially, economically and culturally diverse community of approximately 30,000 residents located just five miles from New York City. Unique to its location within the New York media market, Englewood has no local TV and is served by a regional newspaper. As a result, communication about available activities and resources is severely lacking. Therefore, developing means of effective communication has become a prime focus of the initiative. Englewood is vibrantly diverse, yet its political boundaries by wards have fostered long-standing racial and economic segregation as well as, more recently, religious concentrations with scarce cross-pollination across sectors. By focusing on issues of broad interest, such as transportation and affordable housing, our initiative helps to foster interaction across these sectors. Open and frequent communications via email and social media as well as offering programs and conferences on topics of interest are helping to break down barriers and bring various community members and stakeholders together. Learning from other age-friendly communities is key to our work.
The third presentation will feature Westwood for All Ages in Bergen County, New Jersey. Westwood is the smallest community in the network of age-friendly initiatives of northern New Jersey; it also has the highest proportion of older adults, with 18% of its approximately 11,000 residents ages 65 years or older. Westwood enjoys a tight-knit community where many residents are personally connected with each other. We have focused on leveraging and expanding word-of-mouth information channels to make residents more aware of existing resources that are available for older adults. One example of this is the creation of an age-friendly ambassadors program, which organizes older adult volunteers—many of whom are long-time residents involved with multiple voluntary groups—to share relevant information from the initiative at community events and meetings. Also, given Westwood’s vibrant commercial downtown at the center of its 2.8-square miles, we are focusing on walkability. This work involves collaborating with other local groups focused on public and pedestrian safety. Finally, one indicator of success for the initiative was the establishment of a municipal Senior Advisory Committee, which reflects and affirms the local government’s long-term commitment to engaging with matters that are of particular relevance to older residents.
The fourth presentation will feature an initiative in South Orange and Maplewood, which are adjacent municipalities in Essex County, New Jersey, that are racially/ethnically diverse and have a range of income levels. As commuter communities, the municipalities have seen rapidly rising property taxes and home values, which has resulted in older residents leaving and an influx of children into the school system, and a trajectory of unsustainable age imbalance. Recognizing this, the towns’ leadership actively embraced a healthy aging program and jointly hired an age-friendly coordinator through a combination of municipal and philanthropic funds. Although they cannot control the rising cost of living in the area, initiative leaders are proactively developing relationships and activities with older adults to better communicate that the communities are inclusive of, and offer benefits to, residents of all ages. This initiative’s efforts are unique because they cut across two different municipalities; so leaders need to be strategic on what is done for all residents of both communities (e.g., an aggregated list of events of interest to residents over age 60) versus municipal-specific approaches (e.g., creating a Senior Advisory Committee in the municipality that did not have one prior to the initiative). Support from local officials, in combination with support from private philanthropy, has been critical to these efforts.
The fifth presentation will feature Lifelong Montclair in Essex County, New Jersey. Montclair is a vibrant suburb that is recognized for its cultural, recreational, and outdoor offerings. According to the 2010 Census, 11% of Montclair’s nearly 38,000 residents were 65 years or older, which is lower than the state and national average. In an effort to address retirement flight, Lifelong Montclair seeks to improve the community in each of the eight domains of livability under the AARP national initiative. Lifelong Montclair was founded in 2014 as a public-private venture between a local private philanthropy and the local department of health. It has since been absorbed entirely by the local government. Lifelong Montclair seeks to build collaboration and decrease redundancy to increase the effectiveness of diverse sectors that contribute to Montclair’s age-friendliness. Building consensus among more than 30 community partner organizations is essential to advancing the goals of the initiative. Also, the challenge of affordability in our region—including housing, transportation, and healthcare—in combination with limited additional funds to create new services requires outside-the-box thinking. Examples will be shared of how initiative members have worked with leaders both inside and outside of their community to address challenges at the local and regional levels.