The Council on Aging is currently conducting focus groups in Rohnert Park to assess how age friendly the city is and what can be done in the future to help seniors thrive in the community. The project is partially funded by a $3,250 grant from the Rohnert Park Foundation’s small grants program.
“We did a county-wide assessment that ended about a year ago,” says Renee Tolliver, Director of Social Services for the Council on Aging. “We reached out to each of the cities in the county and did eleven focus groups in total. Now we’re doing Rohnert Park – that was not done the first time around. In the focus groups, we ask questions specifically related to the nine domains of an age-friendly community.”
The nine domains the focus groups concentrate on include community connectedness, respect and social inclusion; transportation; varied housing options; employment and civic participation; community-based health, mental health and social services; healthy living; lifelong learning; outdoor spaces and buildings; and communication and information.
Age friendly communities are part of a worldwide movement that was started by the World Health Organization about 20 years ago. There are more than 300 age friendly communities throughout the world, many of them in the United States. California has been making a concerted effort to add to that list and Sonoma County became an age friendly county in 2016.
“As part of that, the Council on Aging contracted with the County of Sonoma to be a resource for each of the cities in the county to help them engage in age friendly work and receive their own age friendly designation,” says Tolliver. “Healdsburg is the first age friendly city in the county – that happened last fall. It looks like Petaluma might be the next one.”
Another activity funded by the grant is an upcoming walking audit to assess the walkability of our Rohnert Park neighborhoods.
“The city is also giving us a table at their kick-off Friday night market and concert event on June 7,” says Tolliver. “At that time we’ll hand out some information about age friendly and we’ll also be recruiting volunteers to do a walking audit, probably in September.”
The walking audit is designed to have people look around a particular neighborhood in groups of three to five people, preferably mixing different generations to incorporate their unique perspectives. The groups will be looking at conditions for walking in a neighborhood like hazards, visibility and legibility of signs, crosswalk lights being long enough to safely get across streets in a reasonable amount of time without rushing, visibility of drivers able to see pedestrians, and adequate sidewalks for walking with places to stop. Basically, the walking audit attempts to get a sense of how people feel about walking around a given neighborhood.
The Council on Aging, a private 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has been working in Santa Rosa for approximately 55 years, with the mission “to enhance the quality of life for our aging community by providing services that promote well-being and maintain independence.”
“Seniors comprise about one-third of the population in Sonoma County and growing,” says Tolliver. “So at this point there are more people over 65 than there are 18 year olds and that’s the first time that’s ever happened. Seniors are a huge voice, they’re a big part of the community, and our aim is to keep them included as a valuable resource in the community. They don’t fit into any one box. It’s not one size fits all or any sort of cookie cutter approach but we want seniors to have their voice in the community.”