Today’s senior citizens are working longer, living longer, and their needs are different from the generations before them. And, according to the U.S. Census, within the next 15 years, they are expected to make up almost 20 percent of Cabarrus County’s population—a percentage equal to the number of school-aged children in Cabarrus.
Cabarrus County Government decided to prepare.
In 2013, the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners asked County staff to develop a strategic plan for older adults and their families. A task force identified six priority focus areas, solicited public opinions on priorities through a community survey, set goals for the focus areas, and developed the Cabarrus County Aging Strategic Plan for 2015-2020.
The six focus areas of the plan are education and information; housing and home improvement; health and wellness; recreation and entertainment; transportation and accessibility; and employment and income. County staff and representatives from local municipalities, faith-based groups, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations formed subcommittees for each focus area. The subcommittees met to discuss research, trends and challenges.
“The breadth of needs for what we used to think of as the senior population is not the same,” Deputy County Manager Jonathan Marshall said. “What we found was there’s a huge demand for opportunities to stay in their homes longer, and participate in physical and social activities.”
The County had already developed a comprehensive network of resources and programs to help seniors in each of the six focus areas, but the plan intensifies those efforts over a five-year span. Even with the added resources, the County will need help from the private sector to address the vast needs of area seniors in the coming years.
“There is a growing market response to older individuals who want to stay in their own homes. I believe the market will continue to respond, and we’ll start to see more housing options for older adults,” Marshall said. “To meet the demand, the private sector really needs to respond.”
Noticeable progress by the County began within the first year of the plan’s implementation and has continued since. Success include working toward affordable housing options, additional outdoor fitness equipment for seniors, expanded Senior Center hours and offerings and an expanded investment in transportation. The County is also researching the addition of a new facility to meet recreational and educational needs so seniors as part of its long-range planning efforts.
In 2016, Cabarrus County Government began producing the Journeys publication. Published three times a year, the magazine is a road map for programs and services that apply to residents ages 50 and older. It illustrates the impact of programs using actual personal stories of local seniors. The publication also includes tips and resources from local experts who incorporate strategies to improve the quality of life of seniors in Cabarrus County. Because the County produces Journeys magazine, it is free to residents. There are no ads for commercial interests or promotion of scams that target seniors.
All of that is just a start. As the strategic plan evolves over the next few years, the subcommittees will continue to monitor progress and amend it as needed.
“We want residents in Cabarrus County to understand this is something just for them,” Cabarrus County Active Living and Parks Director Londa Strong said. “We’re among a handful of communities in North Carolina and across the country that are strategically focused on caring for older adults. We have a Board of Commissioners that is behind the plan. The time is right and a lot of good will come from it.”
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