Forging community connections through Age-Friendly Sarasota
Age-Friendly Sarasota is a county-wide effort to promote active, happy and healthy living for people of all ages. Over the past seven months, Age-Friendly Sarasota (AFS) consultants and volunteers could be seen throughout our community encouraging all Sarasota County residents age 50 and older to complete an Age-Friendly Sarasota Survey.
The overall goal of distributing the Age-Friendly Sarasota survey was to gather a wide range of thoughts and opinions. In June 2015, we started scheduling places to set up our Age-Friendly Sarasota booth and began encouraging residents 50 and older to complete AFS survey. We visited a variety of senior living facilities, farmers markets throughout the county, all Sarasota County Libraries, the Friendship Centers, etc. AFS presentations were held at service clubs, homeowner associations, faith-based communities, advisory councils, businesses, nonprofit organizations and at several parks and recreation events. Surveys were collected from ALL zip codes within Sarasota county.
Through this process, a lot was learned about engaging a community and asking people to contribute their thoughts. It was evident some people needed to be reminded that their opinions are important and valued. Some people needed reassurance that we were asking for their opinions rather than raising money. And some people needed an enticing reason to visit our booth... like cookies and candy or a friendly hello.
Once the 'Age-Friendly Sarasota' conversation began, it didn't take long to explain the importance of this initiative and the importance of collecting the information we were asking for. It was an added bonus that we were able to offer the survey both online and in paper form.
We also encountered many people who were immediately enthusiastic about sharing their thoughts about the age-friendly assets of Sarasota County. They were excited to talk about their ideas for an age-friendly community. Their faces brightened when they spoke of the possibilities and the 'wouldn't that be awesome' ideas. The lesson learned is in order to engage a community, one must create small connections with people and let them know you value what they have to say. It's all about being heard and getting affirmation that your thoughts and feelings actually do matter.
The most challenging part of educating the community about AFS was helping people understand we are not solving the problems of today, but creating a template for the future. The survey asked questions about the current age-friendly 'assets' of our community - what is it that our community currently is doing well as an age-friendly community. The survey also invited people to answer questions regarding their 'aspirations' for future of our community.
The unexpected outcome of gathering this information from our community was the importance of discussing the topic of 'aging'. Age-Friendly Sarasota not only addresses the age-friendly hopes and aspirations for the our community, it encourages everyone (regardless of their age) to think of their personal age-friendly realm.