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Caucus focuses on putting senior faces forward

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The new kids on Carbondale’s blocks are anything but: in fact, they’ve been around the block more than a few times — often relatively unnoticed, they contend. But that’s changing as the seniors behind the Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI) are finding their voice.

Niki Delson first came across the American Association of Retired People (AARP) Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities when she was researching how to audit an intersection for the Bike Pedestrian and Trails Commission.

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“We were talking at one time about dangerous intersections in Carbondale, and I looked up how do you … not just say, ‘this is dangerous,’ but how do you actually do an audit, and I came across the age-friendly network. They have a blueprint about how to do that,” she said.

It’s just one of the tools the AARP makes available on its website (aarp.org) for creating more inclusive communities for residents of all ages. From there, Delson learned that Colorado was among the first three states to officially join the network.

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That got her thinking about her own experiences living in Carbondale.

“When I joined two years ago, I was probably 15 years older or more than the next person in the group,” she said of the Bike Pedestrian and Trails Commission. “And I realized there was really no voice on that commission for seniors, and I realized that in other groups that I had been in … politically, seniors are just invisible. I don’t think by design; I think this is just a young, vital community and it’s not on people’s radar until it’s in your face.”

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She started talking about it with Ron Kokish, who in turn spends much of his retirement talking with local seniors as a Medicare consultant. He concurred with Delson.

“I’m the coordinating volunteer for the Medicare Information Counseling program at RSVP — Retired Senior Volunteer Program,” he said. “Seniors don’t seem to have a political consciousness or a political voice.”

Delson and Judie Blanchard often bounce ideas off one another during their walks around town, which are typically about four miles. Blanchard noted that the walks themselves expose plenty of immediate needs that could further improve livability.

“Niki and I walk all the time. Half the time, particularly in the winter, we’re forced into the road because streets aren’t shoveled, there’s branches overhead,” she said, adding that the issue affects more than seniors. “We’re not there just with other seniors; we’re there with mothers with strollers, with dogs, with kids coming home from school. With age friendly, although we do want to bring the senior voice into it, it’s really friendly for all ages.”

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So on Jan. 27, CAFCI held its first meeting. The group presented a draft of the initiative asking the Carbondale Board of Trustees to “work with Carbondale seniors to actively pursue strategies that enhance mobility for people of all ages around our beautiful town.”

“A lot of people were complaining about sidewalk clearance and stuff, and the Board of Trustees were having a work session on mobility issues,” Delson recalled. “So at our first meeting, we created this initiative for people to sign. We ended up with 186 signatures, of which 26 came from the residents and staff of Heritage Park.”

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More than half a dozen CAFCI members joined the trustees at the Feb. 19 work session.

“We were introduced, and they were very interested in our perspectives and very, very receptive,” Blanchard said, adding that Mayor Dan Richardson had requested five areas of focus about which the group could then offer recommendations. “We’re in the process of preparing that.”

Those areas include: sidewalk clearance, encroachment and interference; bike/pedestrian/auto conflicts; adding more benches for fragile seniors; Circulator accessibility. And that’s just reflective of what has been brought to CAFCI members’ attention.

“We only think through the prism through which we see the world, so we need people to join us whose prism is really different,” Delson said. “My eyes have really opened since I started thinking about this, but they’ve only opened so far as other people have opened my eyes.” She counts the Heritage Park community among those people. “They have a community, but they’re not integrated into the larger community. They were thrilled at the idea of joining One Table. Nobody had ever invited them!”

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