Age-friendly ideas for Macon-Bibb coming together

Group works on plan for seniors, everyone else

jgaines@macon.comMay 14, 2013 

The effort to make Macon and Bibb County more “age-friendly” needs to involve and serve all ages, volunteers working on the project said Tuesday.

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 eight categories -- outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community and health services.

A volunteer advisory council is working on a plan, which the World Health Organization will assess at the two-year mark to certify that it’s both realistic and sufficiently ambitious. Three years after that, a progress review will decide if the age-friendly designation will be extended for another five years.

About two dozen advisory council members gathered Tuesday at Middle Georgia State College, and split into four subcommittees to hammer out specific actions, each handling two of the eight topic areas.

Katherine Buchman, program specialist in the city’s Economic & Community Development Department, said the subcommittee on housing and community health services picked out five things to do soon: hold focus groups this summer on health struggles for seniors and general public health; get a community-service intern to work on public health; launch a media campaign on health issues; hold an informative event, perhaps highlighting people with specific problems; and have an “active senior” competition next spring in conjunction with an information and entertainment fair.

Kris Hattaway, director of place at NewTown Macon, spoke for the group on social participation and communication. The group should work through churches and senior-center activity directors, helping older people get familiar with high technology, she said. The advisory council should then advertise its work through social media, sponsor community-wide “character education” to improve social inclusion, and partner with various arts organizations, Hattaway said.

“We need the children to grow up appreciating the arts and going to these events,” she said.

Macon City Councilman Frank Tompkins, giving the civic participation and employment report, said public records should be available in larger print and more technical aids with phone service should be provided for the deaf.

But for itself specifically, the advisory council should reach out to schools, churches, local media and other groups to explain what they’re doing, printing fliers and establishing an online presence, he said.

Kevin Barrere, Bibb County Public Affairs officer, spoke for the outdoor spaces and transportation group. The Bibb County Recreation Department already is making recreation center improvements that will benefit seniors, but those need to be better publicized, he said. But making sure seniors have easy access to facilities and programs will take collaborative work, Barrere said.

“I think we need to get Rick Jones in here,” he said. Jones is CEO of the Macon Transit Authority.

Myrtle Habersham, an AARP volunteer for Macon-Bibb County, said the advisory council’s next meeting should produce something close to the work plan the World Health Organization is looking for. That meeting will be 10 a.m. July 9 at the Middle Georgia Regional Commission office on Emery Highway, she said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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