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Forum will help communities become 'age-friendly'

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 22. 2017 7:54PM

About the series
Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday news report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire's aging population and seeking out solutions.

Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at or (603) 206-7739.

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Teams of “mystery shoppers” spent the last six months sneaking into southern New Hampshire libraries, coffee shops, businesses and parks looking at what communities offer to make them attractive to all ages.

They surveyed hundreds of people from different generations asking what they need in their communities to make them happier. They held forums to hear about the challenges.

What they found will be used as part of a toolkit made available to all communities to help them become “age-friendly” in hopes of better accommodating New Hampshire’s rapidly graying population while keeping millennials in the state.

“There is a lot of support for the aging population, but the challenges we have and will continue to have is engaging millennials. They are leaving the state,” said David Preece, executive director of the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission (SNHPC). “If communities really want to become age-friendly, they have to be willing to consider this secondary part of the population — the millennials.”

The toolkit is being created by the SNHPC, which serves 14 communities from Windham to Deerfield and from Francestown to Candia, including Manchester and Hooksett. When complete, it will be offered to any New Hampshire community that wants it.

Age-friendly means the community is easy to walk around, whether it be for an elderly woman with a walker or a mom pushing her kids in a double-stroller. It means there are ways to get to work, the grocery store or the doctor’s office that don’t require driving. It means it’s just as fun for Junior as it is for Gramps.

The commission put together a group including Realtors, architects, business owners, college students and others to develop the toolkit. The group is focusings on four areas of age-friendliness: housing and zoning, transportation and accessibility, business and economy, and recreation and engagement. The group put out a public survey and received 641 responses.

Sylvia von Aulock, the commission’s deputy executive director, has been spearheading the effort. She said the group has found many age-friendly programs already in place, just not labeled as such. Von Aulock talked about a local high school that required graduating seniors to perform some community service; the Auburn Library jumped at the opportunity, bringing in high schoolers in January to help older folks to learn how to use that tablet they got for Christmas.

In Candia, a librarian was seeing people come in looking for volunteer opportunities while also seeing people come in seeking assistance. She created a network to link these two groups together.

“Whether it was rural, suburban or urban, the unusual partnerships created the most dynamic and unique programs,” Von Aulock said.

The group also looked at disconnects. Von Aulock gave an example of a meeting in Londonderry where seniors were asked to rate the availability of transportation. One woman rated the community as a one, while another of similar age gave Londonderry a seven. The woman who rated it higher knew of the Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation (CART) program, which provides rides to seniors in Chester, Derry, Hampstead, Londonderry and Salem; the other woman didn’t.

One of the bigger disconnects found was politics. The group found that many millennials reported being disenfranchised because local politics seemed to be controlled by the older generations, said Derek Shooster, a city planner for the commission. However, he said New Hampshire is one of the easiest places to get involved.

“They don’t feel like they are respected,” said Shooster. “They don’t feel like they have a voice in their community,”

The group is hosting a forum May 31 to discuss the gems they discovered, the roadblocks they found, and the future of its mission. The Community Age-Friendly Forum will be held at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Goffstown from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

It’s hoped that at least three communities will come forward to volunteer to earn the designation of being a “livable community.” It’s not as simple as taking a pledge, and a community must meet certain requirements outlined by the World Health Organization and AARP. It involves looking at communities in eight areas: outdoor space, transportation, housing, social participation, social inclusion, engagement and employment, communication and community/health services.

The hope is that as these communities earn the designation, others will learn, said Todd Fahey, state director for AARP NH.

“We need champions,” Fahey said.

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