Partnerships help Central Ohio become more age-friendly for older adults

Partnerships help Central Ohio become more age-friendly for older adults

Note: Photo taken pre-pandemic

By Colleen Bradley, Communications Intern

With a growing 65+ year-old population, the Central Ohio community has put its attention on creating an accessible environment that allows all ages to flourish. Thanks to Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County, older adults are experiencing more access to necessities like transportation and housing, as well as experiencing an improvement in inclusion.

Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County is part of a worldwide network, but is recognized as one of the leading programs due to the benefits of being housed in Ohio States College of Social Work. In fact, the initiative received the Council on Social Work Educations Community Partnership Action Award in the fall of 2019.

Dr. Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, associate professor of Social Work and research director for Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County, explains the importance of this university partnership.

"Because of the relationship with the College of Social Work and other colleges across the university, we provide the opportunity to blend more sophisticated evaluation and research to program growth and development," she said. "So we have that opportunity to ensure that the new and supporting interventions to make our community livable for people of all ages actually are being supported by the best evidence available. Were also building knowledge and evidence along with residents, who are living in Columbus and Franklin County."

Working with Ohio State has allowed the program to utilize more resources and increase their participant numbers greatly. The College of Nursing, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and Knowlton School are just a few examples of the many areas of Ohio State contributing to the community engagement led by the College of Social Work.

"The university leadership has very much taken notice," says Lisa Durham, assistant dean for strategic initiatives in the College of Social Work. "They always want to know more about it and what the impact could be on a state level. They are very much attuned to the work that is happening in the community."

Partnering for success

In addition to the university partnerships, Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County could not do what they do without their outside partners, such as COTA and Lyft. The partnerships are key to making this program a success.

"From our investment to our planning to our implementation, none of this work is done in a silo," said Katie White, director of Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County. "It takes many partners for every single thing. Every strategy is related to data and information we heard from older adults and about 125 stakeholders from the community."

They work very closely with the older adults, assessing their issues and relaying this information to the partners to help create the best solutions to the problems.

"Were saying heres what our community elders are telling us. Here are ideas from collaborators and elders around how we can solve those problems. Lets work together to get to that solution," says White, explaining the relationship between the older adults, Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County, and the partners.

It is extremely important to the team to make sure the voice of the older adult population is being heard.

"Just asking for peoples opinions puts them in a unique place to empower them," says Marisa Sheldon, assistant director of Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County.

Opportunities for students

Their work has not only helped to create a positive impact on the elderly community, but it has also increased the awareness of Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin Countys mission among Ohio State students.

"We have an Age-Friendly Student in Residence program," Sheldon said. "This is the second year we have had a student living at Ohio Living Westminster Thurber, engaging with the community in both formal and informal ways. Its this idea of intergenerational reciprocity. The student is giving to the community in a lot of ways through these formal engagements, but the student is gaining so much and will forever be impacted."

"Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County gives us an opportunity to get students from multiple disciplines excited about our aging world," says Dabelko-Schoeny. "We have such a shortage of students across multiple disciplines, who are interested in working with older adults and older adult issues, and so this sort of living laboratory allows us to bring together students of multiple disciplines to learn about, get excited about, and research opportunities to support age-friendly communities."

While Age-Friendly Columbus and Franklin County has had a tremendous impact on the older adult population, the Ohio State community, and the city itself, it wants to expand the dialogue even more. With more discussions and engagements with older adults, being a central place for best practices and impact, and growing their evaluation and research, the team hopes to display a need for this program and the importance of inclusivity and accessibility.

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