Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley Releases Action Plan to Improve Social Connection, Overcome Inequities and Combat Ageism
Allentown, PA December 1, 2022 – In an effort to create age-friendly environments in the Lehigh Valley that acknowledge diversity, fight ageism and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate fully, United Way and Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley have launched an Action Plan in partnership with Lehigh County, Northampton County, AARP, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and many community partners.
“Our environments play an important role in determining how we age and how we respond to disease, loss of function and other forms of adversity that we may experience at different stages of life, in particular in later years,” said Carmen Bell, Healthy Aging Director, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley (UWGLV). “The goal of this plan is to continue to build communities that treat all residents and visitors with respect, regardless of age, income or physical ability.”
As part of the plan’s creation, the Lehigh Valley became the nation’s first dual-county community to receive certification in the World Health Organization/AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities.
“The Lehigh Valley has a history of success when we work together, and this effort is no exception. With a growing number of residents age 65 and older, we must work together to ensure the Lehigh Valley can best serve all our populations,” added Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong.
Residents who are age 65 and older currently represent 15% of each county’s population, as compared to 13% nationally. Projections suggest that seniors will grow to 22% of the Lehigh Valley population by 2040.
“We offer our continued support and commitment as we launch this action plan. We applaud the leaders and stakeholders who have become champions in the field of aging and are proud to see a growing network of partners who recognize that age-friendly communities benefit everyone,” remarked Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure.
According to AARP, well-designed and age-friendly communities foster economic growth and make for happier, healthier residents of all ages.
“At AARP, we recognize that neighborhoods are where we care for our families, launch new businesses, and plan for the future,” said AARP Lehigh County Associate State Director for Outreach Kellie VonStein. “We are pleased to work in partnership with residents, community leaders and public officials to promote local action so that our communities provide the space, services and opportunities that support people of all ages and abilities as they seek to live healthy, productive, and civically engaged lives.”
Action Plan Goals and Cornerstone Initiatives
The Plan is a “living document” developed and vetted by an active and engaged community and serves as a collective community pivot from programs and services targeted to the individual to initiatives designed to serve our community as a whole.
“Providing barrier-free and attainable housing, accessible public spaces and transportation that’s welcoming to walkers, rollers, drivers and transit users enables people to stay independent and active in their community,” said Becky Bradley, Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
The Plan serves as a call-to-action to change attitudes toward ageism, equity and inclusion and outlines the community tools needed to ensure that age-friendly programs, services and policy are available and accessible to all. It highlights several key strategies and focus areas, including:
Outdoor Spaces and Buildings: Increase accessibility to the social and physical health benefits provided by parks, trails, open spaces and public buildings.
Strategy: Identify, map and communicate key points of access to outdoor spaces and public buildings that organically serve as gathering places and informal sources of information. Conduct walk audits.
Transportation: Increase awareness about transportation options that are in place Valley-wide, including public and private transit and ride-share. Increase safety and accessibility of public bus stops.
Strategy: A visible transportation services campaign that provides relevant information in multiple languages and engages the community with positive messaging about staying connected. Increase safety and accessibility of public bus stops.
Housing: Equity in access to housing for all residents.
Strategy: Assess the current state and develop viable solutions for equitable and affordable housing.
Civic Participation and Employment: Encourage a positive attitude toward hiring seniors and recruiting volunteers.
Strategy: Visibility campaign celebrating older adults and their ongoing contributions. Highlight the benefits of engaging with older adult workers and volunteers. Research attitudes on aging in the region. Create opportunities to showcase the talents of older adults.
Community Support, Food Security and Health Services: Increase awareness about healthy aging in place. Keep individuals connected with family and community. Promote expanded access to services that help ensure that residents’ full range of emotional, social and physical needs are met. Increase food access.
Strategy: Visibility campaign for area-wide communication and policy change that supports designation of family members and friends as essential caregivers.
Safety and Emergency Preparedness: Ensure the safety and reassurance of older adults in the event of a personal or large-scale emergency.
Strategy: Convene an emergency preparedness coalition utilizing a cross-section of organizations and develop a plan/website.
Visit AgeFriendlyLehighValley.org to view the full Action Plan.
The Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley Leadership Team is a mix of community leaders who volunteer their time to engage the Lehigh Valley in the Age-Friendly Communities Program under the direction and leadership of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. Committee members work together to expand awareness of opportunities for residents to voice their opinions on age-friendly efforts. This committee also assists with the oversight, creation and implementation of the Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley Action Plan and will collect feedback in preparation for the next steps.
Photos by Marco Calderon Photography