Olmsted County is expected to be home to 42,600 senior citizens by 2035.
“The numbers are daunting,” Olmsted County Commission Gregg Wright said, pointing to AARP stats, which indicate 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day in the U.S.
Additionally, Minnesota Compass estimates residents 65 and older will soon outnumber the school-age population, 5-17, for the first time in state history.
To ensure seniors can remain active participants in the community, a group of local advocates has been working for more than a year to join AARP’s network of age-friendly communities.
The stumbling block has been finding specific city or county support.
“A local government unit needs to be part of the process,” said Dave Beal, who has been helping lead the effort. “Olmsted County is being asked to be part of that unit.”
Beal, a community resources specialist at Family Service Rochester, said FSR has already committed to leading the planning process required to join the network, which includes four cities and Hennepin County in Minnesota.
Being able to share information and resources generated in those communities would be a benefit of joining the network, he said, noting the Olmsted County effort could still be designed to cater to specific local needs, which could include housing, accessibility issues and creating new ways to engage an aging population.
Beal acknowledged the effort could be seen as daunting for a single group, but the goal is to get community involvement.
“It was never our intent to come to the county and say, ‘Do this,’” he said, acknowledging county commissioners’ early reluctance to take on the new program.
The commissioners will be asked to officially join the effort next month, but three of the seven board members voiced support this week.
“We do a lot of things in the county in collaboration with partners, and I don’t see this as any different,” said Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden, who was joined by Wright and Commissioner Stephanie Poldulke in the discussion with Beal and other advocates.
Deputy County Administrator Paul Fleissner said a significant change from earlier discussions was Family Service Rochester’s willingness to take the lead.
While the effort won’t require a specific funding dedication, it will require some county staff support to share data for the network application and planning process.
“We already have a whole lot of data,” Wright said. “We collected it and we don’t need to do it again.”
Fleissner said the key is working with the data and putting it into context.
“That makes sense as a good partnership,” he said, noting the county already works directly with 3,000 seniors through its Adult Services Department, as well as others in additional county programs.
“It’s part of our mission,” he said. “It’s just how do we take a look that’s a little bit more of a community look.”