Center for Aging & Community state project making senior neighborhoods more livable

In an aging section of Gary, Indiana, older residents are banding together to make their neighborhood safer – partnering with local police, establishing a 24-hour crisis hotline, organizing cleanup projects, and building networks of friends and family to monitor their health and well-being.

The project is one of five in Indiana coordinated by UIndy’s Center for Aging & Community through a state-funded program called Communities for Life.

Communities for Life builds on the concept of neighborhood naturally occurring retirement communities, or NNORCs, a term applied to small geographic areas where people age 60 and older happen to live in high concentrations. NNORCs provide opportunities to create community-based programs that help older adults live independently in their own homes and manage their own affairs, typically seen as a more satisfying and less expensive alternative to institutional settings and bureaucratic programs.

The work began in 2007, when the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Division of Aging contracted with the Center for Aging & Community and provided $885,000 in funding to support initial studies and planning for NNORC-based projects. CAC selected projects proposed by local agencies in Indianapolis, South Bend, Gary, Huntington and Linton. Earlier this year, the Division of Aging provided an additional $500,000 for these communities to take action on the key concerns identified by the residents themselves.

“The great thing about this model is that it can be tailored to each community,” says LaNita Garmany, the Communities for Life project director at CAC.

The principles can be applied to urban and rural settings alike. In Greene County near Linton, transportation and fitness programs are being developed to address the residents’ call for greater mobility and independence. In Huntington and South Bend, participants are developing home safety programs and information and referral services. The group in Indianapolis’ Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood is tackling safety issues with in-home assessments and modifications, fall prevention seminars, and a product pantry with items such as smoke detectors and night lights.

Partners in the project include the Huntington County Council on Aging, the Gary Community Health Foundation, REAL Services of South Bend, Generations agency on aging in Vincennes, and Martin University in Indianapolis. CAC is awaiting word on further funding that could expand the program to other communities.