Tryon: Roots of the Age-Friendly Festival

By Tom Tryon 
Opinion editor, Sarasota Herald Tribune

posted with permission of the Herald-Tribune Media Group

Aging takes time.

So does sustainable change.

And, like most things in life, the effort to enhance our community’s response to an aging population has taken time to develop. It has also required taking risks, accepting evolution rather than expecting revolution, and learning from mistakes.

On Saturday, the first Age-Friendly Festival in the nation will be conducted in Sarasota. The event at the Sarasota Fairgrounds will signify a watershed moment — an evolutionary movement that has been led by The Patterson Foundation for eight years yet was germinated by other community organizations, including SCOPE.

“One could say the roots of the festival trace back to SCOPE,” stated Debra Jacobs, president and chief executive of The Patterson Foundation.

In 2009, SCOPE — Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence — completed a community-based study that resulted in a comprehensive report entitled “Aging: The Possibilities.”

The study was shaped by a public-input process that commenced in 2005 with community assemblies, progressed in 2007 into an annual series of Winter Forums on Aging — featuring local and national experts — and eventually was built into Age-Friendly Sarasota.

The years of research and community conversations resulted in two overarching conclusions: Sarasota County and the surrounding region are at the forefront of a worldwide shift in age-related demographics that affect economics, social structures and personal well-being; an aging population provides as many, if not more, opportunities than challenges.

Thus, also in 2009, Aging with Dignity and Independence was selected as one of the Sarasota-based Patterson Foundation’s legacy initiatives.

The Age-Friendly Sarasota initiative is a countywide effort, according to the foundation, “to promote active, engaged, and healthy living for people of all ages.” Among the goals are to learn about the aspirations of the community and its individuals in how they can live well at any age.

More than 500 communities across the globe have launched such initiatives as part of a network sponsored by the World Health Organization and promoted domestically by AARP.

The Patterson Foundation provided its financial resources, vast web of social connections and leadership to help Sarasota County in 2015 become Florida’s first Age-Friendly community.

The Age-Friendly Festival will feature speakers, engagement exercises and exhibitors — all aimed at improving the quality of life for residents of all ages because, as the work so far has demonstrated, communities that make accommodations for older adults are likely to appeal to children and families.

Think about affordable housing and living options that can accommodate multiple generations. Think about parks and civic spaces that are easily accessible to older folks on walkers as well as moms with babies in strollers. Think about alternatives to driving (the nonprofit Independent Transportation Network offers low-cost rides for elderly adults but it needs more volunteers and funding; there is no similar program for teens with working parents).

Our communities don’t have enough of these features. They are among the things that progressive communities should pursue.

Fortunately, a lot of the thinking has been done. It has taken time to get from “there” to “here” but the expenditure of resources and energy has moved the community to this point.

The Age-Friendly Festival provides an opportunity to explore how process can lead to progress. More than 125 organizations will participate Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The event is open to the public, free of charge. For information:

Tom Tryon is opinion editor, and chairman of SCOPE’s volunteer board of directors