SANFORD -- Sanford is now officially an age-friendly community, according to the American Association of Retired Persons.
The AARP recently welcomed Sanford into its Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, following efforts by York County Community Action Corporation, city officials, and others to secure certification. The network is an institutional affiliate of the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities.
The certification is valid until Aug. 15, 2021. Between now and then, YCCAC administrators and members of the organization’s “Thriving in Place” (TIP) leadership team will be working with city officials and the community at large to develop and implement a plan to further ensure, through policies, programs and projects, that Sanford will remain and grow as an age-friendly community for years to come. The status can be renewed continually, provided the community persists in meeting AARP’s criteria.
Robin Bibber, the director of the Y Trafton Senior Center and a member of the team, said she felt “excited and relieved” when she first learned that Sanford had been approved for the age-friendly status.
Meaghan Arzberger, the director of economic opportunity at YCCAC and also a member of the team, said she felt the same way.
“It’s really important to us because it helps provide a clear direction for where we want to go,” Arzberger said. “If we had not gotten it, I think it would have been more difficult for us to really support age-friendly practices in our community.”
According to Bibber and Arzberger, the plan that the TIP leadership team is creating needs to incorporate the eight domains that comprise AARP’s focus. Such domains include infrastructure, housing, economic opportunity, transportation, health, and community support.
The status applies to all ages, and not just seniors, the demographic for which the AARP is most known for serving. Take sidewalks, for example, said Bibber. All ages need safe and accessible sidewalks in a community -- there are seniors who need to watch their step; individuals with disabilities who use wheelchairs; and families that go for walks or ride their bikes.
“They all need the same infrastructure to live in a community that thrives,” Bibber said.
The Sanford City Council approved the pursuit of the AARP status earlier this year, essentially establishing a commitment by the city to work with TIP on creating an age-friendly community.
“We are working in a true partnership,” Arzberger said. “That’s so important. It changes the dynamic of our work,” in that the team now can make use of resources that only a municipal government can provide.
The team will conduct its work through focus groups, assorted analyses and other efforts. When “Thriving in Place” formed four years ago, it identified social isolation as the topmost concern among people in the community. Arzberger said she believes that issue will be prominent in the team’s work ahead.
“I anticipate again that social isolation is probably going to be a big part of the work as we think about our plan,” she said.
Ericka Sanborn, the development manager at YCCAC, expressed confidence in the team’s mission.
“This team, what we all share, is that we are very community-centric, committed to seeing this very great community become even stronger,” she said. “I think that the work that we do will complement our belief.”
According to Bibber, there are numerous communities throughout Maine -- some as close as Kennebunk, Old Orchard Beach and Eliot -- that also have the age-friendly status and can be a resource for Sanford as the leadership team proceeds, looking for ideas and for roadblocks either to avoid or overcome.
Thea Murphy and Roberta Goldsmith are two members of the leadership team who are acting as liaisons to the community.
“I have a really strong interest in this,” said Murphy. “My husband and I moved to Sanford in 2003. We’ve put down roots. Both of us live in the downtown. We want to enjoy our community. Quite honestly, Sanford is a great community -- it’s safe, it’s walkable to an extent now, and it can only get better. As part of our community, it’s our responsibility to work for what we need.”
Murphy praised Beth Della Valle, the planning director for Sanford, as being a “driving force” on the city’s side of the partnership. She also said AARP will prove helpful.
“AARP has a toolbox that they offer to communities to help these efforts to get going,” Murphy said.
Roberta Goldsmith praised the TIP team’s efforts and acknowledged the difference that the AARP’s status will help make.
“This broadens what we can do,” she said.
Willie Dumont, of Garsney Brothers Insurance on Main Street, also is a part of the team and was instrumental in securing the city’s support, according to Arzberger.
Anyone who would like to get involved with the efforts to create and implement the age-friendly plan is encouraged to contact Murphy at either firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-337-0642.
The team will hold a document-shredding and prescription drug take-back at the Trafton Center on Elm Street on Saturday, Nov. 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. All people are invited to attend and have their personal documents shredded, courtesy of the AARP, or hand in any medication that they no longer need to representatives of the York County Sheriff’s Office. The event also will be an opportunity to learn about the leadership team’s age-friendly efforts, according to Bibber.