In considering how to make Macon-Bibb County more welcoming and accessible to seniors, an AARP-backed committee found Tuesday that two common themes underlie many of its goals.
Those pervasive needs are transportation and public information, according to reports from four subcommittees.
About two dozen members of the Age-Friendly Community advisory council met at Middle Georgia State College to start working out practical steps in eight different areas.
In August 2012, Macon-Bibb County became the first place in the country to be dubbed an Age-Friendly Community, a designation made jointly by AARP and the World Health Organization.
In return, local governments agreed to work toward better senior-citizen access to outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community and health services.
The designation doesnt dictate specific actions to reach those goals, said Myrtle Habersham, an AARP key volunteer for Macon-Bibb County. Its up to the community to decide how to get there, but progress will be assessed in July 2014 to see if the designation should be renewed, she said.
Tuesdays meeting was the start of developing a work plan, which will be posted for public input, Habersham said.
Advisory council members split into four subcommittees to hash out ideas, each handling two of the eight topic areas.
Macon City Councilman Frank Tompkins, speaking for the group on civic participation and employment, ran through a long list of educational and social service programs now available to seniors. Helping the elderly engage in public life fosters a sense of empowerment, belonging and community spirit, he said.
But Tompkins cautioned that unless the area really deals with the prevalence of poverty, any other efforts to make Macon-Bibb County welcoming will fail.
Dale Doc Dougherty, Bibb County Parks & Recreations executive director who gave the report on transportation and outdoor spaces and buildings, said theres plenty of programming in local parks to appeal to seniors.
Barriers to that are simply getting there and the perception that local parks are dangerous.
Finding a cost-effective way to get seniors to parks and whether to have small parks within walking distance or more economical regional parks will be important decisions, Dougherty said. Parks are actually quite safe, so the common perception of crime has to be countered, he said.
Katherine Buchman, program specialist in the citys Economic & Community Development Department, said her group spent most of its time talking about housing needs rather than community health services. The advisory council needs input from more health care providers, she said.
And transit cropped up again: One of those cross-cutting issues, Buchman said, as seniors need help getting to health services just as much as they need transportation to parks and jobs.
There are many agencies that offer help seniors can use, such as house-repair funds. But, hitting the days other main theme, Buchman said people need a better way to find out whats available.
The group working on social inclusion and communication talked about teaching seniors how to find resources online, especially through smartphones, said Kris Hattaway, director of place at NewTown Macon. The advisory council should work with nonprofits to get people more engaged, such as pairing older mentors with students, she said.
More transit needs to be available not only for the poor, but also for older people who dont drive, said Thomas Jones, director of the Middle Georgia Regional Library system, speaking for the same subcommittee as Hattaway.
The advisory council should look at fundraising options to help pay for seniors involvement in some of the named activities, he said.
Habersham said the recurring themes that emerged from Tuesdays discussion will be emphasized in the AARP work plan. Progress will be summarized before the advisory councils next meeting May 14. The eventual results will be put out for public discussion, she said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.