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Two-Way Street: How Does Your City Foster a Senior-Friendly Environment?

Aaron WittnebelAARON WITTNEBEL
Mayor
City of Lake Park

Lake Park (population 780) has a senior nutrition program that provides meals to city and area residents 55 years old and older. In 2010, the city was faced with a decision about the future of the senior nutrition program as it would no longer be provided directly by Nutrition Services, Inc. The city looked at other options, but they would have required seniors to travel out of town to receive their meals, which most are unable to do.

New deal
Instead, the city was able to broker a deal with Nutrition Services, Inc. that allowed the program to go on without any major changes in the service. The city would provide the staff and kitchen for the program, and Nutrition Services would provide reimbursement for meals served.

After obtaining a grant with a large area employer, Team Industries, the city was able to upgrade its kitchen for improved service as well as prepare frozen meals for seniors to eat in the evening or on weekends.

Although a Thursday night meal was eliminated, the Monday through Friday lunches would still be offered at the City Center or by delivery through Meals on Wheels, organized by Lake Park Nutrition Coordinator Brenda Seeley.

Costs and goals
In 2012, the city spent $8,832 on the program after reimbursement. In 2013, we spent $9,133 after reimbursement. There was a slight increase due to federal sequestration, which affected Nutrition Services’ ability to reimburse providers, but the city will still continue with the program.

We are still working on ways to get new seniors to participate in the program and on expanding service to the outlying rural area. Some goals for the program include: (1) offering Meals on Wheels to seniors living in rural areas; (2) establishing an endowment with a local company for a matching grant program to help cover the city’s operational expenses; and (3) doing more grassroots promotion to youth and young adults who can help seniors get signed up.

Donations save the day
When the reimbursement rate was cut in 2013, the program made up a portion of the lost revenue through small contributions from participants and city residents that wanted to help. Seniors in the City of Lake Park have fared well under the city’s current arrangement.

Jim NashJIM NASH
Mayor
City of Waconia

As Americans age, cities have to find ways to engage senior residents so that they are able to continue living a rich life in their community. In Waconia (population 11,000), roughly 15 percent of our population is classified as “seniors,” and so we work to provide much needed offerings to our senior community.

Using existing assets
Waconia is home to the largest hospital in Carver County (Ridgeview Medical Center), and as a natural by-product of that proximity and relationship, we also have a fair number of senior/assisted living facilities. In addition, we have a large number of seniors who still live in their homes. To adequately serve them, the City of Waconia uses existing assets to create simple and flexible offerings.

Commission on Aging
Perhaps the most important activity geared toward seniors is our Commission on Aging, which is a subcommittee made up of citizens. The commission makes recommendations to the City Council, focusing on ways to make the senior experience better in our city.

This commission has led the effort to create several senior-targeted programs, including our senior resource guide and our “Car Fit” program. In the Car Fit program, seniors are coached through automobile safety features and checkups to ensure they continue to be safe drivers. It has helped a great number of seniors over the last several years.

Wellness programs
We also use our Waconia Community Center to better serve seniors. For example, the center has created a six-month membership package geared toward “snow birds;” adopted the “Silver Sneakers” program for our senior residents; and created numerous wellness classes—including yoga, aerobics, stretching, Pilates, Zumba, and water sports—specifically for seniors.

Having a talented and senior-mindful staff and council that is creative, responsive, and aware of the needs of all residents is critical to serving seniors successfully and with a great diversity of services. Most of these programs can be done with existing resources simply by taking the time to anticipate needs and by listening to senior residents. They will tell you what they are looking for, and it’s our job as public servants to execute to the best of our abilities.

Read the March-April 2014 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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