CHAMPAIGN — Two years after Champaign-Urbana joined a network of age-friendly communities, local organizers have begun tackling some of the major issues that stand to affect the quality of life for older adults in the area.
That includes, for instance, boosting community inclusion across a diverse population of races and income levels.
"We want to make sure we address the needs of everyone, not just one segment," said Ben LeRoy, a Champaign associate planner who is also co-chairman of the Age-Friendly Champaign-Urbana committee.
Another goal is updating information about community events and useful resources for older adults and making it all easy to access — including the upcoming launch of a website called Chambana Seniors.
Still another is aimed at improving transportation resources for older adults who no longer drive.
Age-Friendly Communities is an initiative of AARP, and its goal is to help make it comfortable and easier for older adults to continue living in their home communities as they age.
Improving the quality of life for older adults also stands to have an impact on all age groups, LeRoy said.
"We all benefit when our community is more age-friendly," he said.
Nearly a quarter of Champaign County's population is already 55 or older, and nearly 8 percent of the county's population over 65 is living below the federal poverty level on less than $12,490 a year for a one-person household, according to Age-Friendly Champaign-Urbana.
"There's a lot of work to do," said Kathleen Holden, a retired UI administrator co-chairing the local initiative with LeRoy. "We've got a lot of older adults coming down the pike, and as a society, we're not ready for it."
One goal for Champaign in the Age-Friendly initiative is retaining people who might otherwise move away, LeRoy said.
"We want people to feel Champaign remains a great option for them as they advance through stages of life," he said.
Another goal is ensuring Champaign is a good option for retirees looking to relocate to a vibrant community, LeRoy said.
The Age-Friendly Champaign-Urbana committee includes a broad group of people from local governments, health and social service organizations and the UI.
It began with research that included a public survey to identify major needs for older adults in the area, and this year, the group launched a three-year action plan. Rather than trying to address all goals at once, LeRoy said, the group is focusing initially on making progress on the three of them, centered on improving community inclusion, transportation access and communication.
Currently, there are fragmented resources for older adults and only some are available online — and some are out of date, the plan states. The Chambana Seniors website will likely be launched later this year, LeRoy said.
The three-year plan also states the entire population of older adults in the community isn't currently being reached, and the desired state is "an inclusive community where older adults feel safe, supported and included."
Pieces of work on boosting community inclusion will be increasing options for older adults who want to remain in their homes and neighborhoods and opportunities for older adults to connect with agencies in need of volunteers.
Work on the transportation goal will be directed at addressing barriers to older adults' use of public transportation and ride-share services.
Champaign-Urbana was one of just two communities in Illinois in the AARP's Age-Friendly network in 2017, along with Evanston. The Illinois list has since grown to include Alton, Arlington Heights, Danville and Woodstock.