Committed To Becoming More Age-Friendly
Town of Wenham, MA United States of America
Wenham is a town with a rich history that will be celebrating its 375th anniversary in 2018. The first township of Wenham appears to have belonged to the Agawam Indians and the name Wenham is from a parish in Suffolk County, England, from which early settlers arrived. The first Meeting House was built and located to encourage settlement in the middle of the Town. The 1800’s saw Wenham as primarily an agricultural society. Situated within Wenham’s geography is Wenham Lake, known for its role in the harvesting of ice, a very important industry lasting into the 20th century and prized around the world. Town assets include being a historic New England locale with several icons of history: the Wenham Museum’s Claflin-Gerrish-Richards House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the earliest dwellings on the North Shore; and the Wenham Tea House, originating in 1912 as a women’s exchange and place for the townspeople to gather. Wenham is primarily a residential community where residents live in quiet, peaceful neighborhoods. Celebrating the rich history and stories of the townspeople is the cornerstone of how the community plans to thrive and become more age friendly in 2018. To mark the 375th town anniversary, an intergenerational history project between long-time Wenham residents and social studies students at Hamilton Wenham Regional High School will capture and record oral histories of life in Wenham through the Depression era. A video documentary will be recorded for public celebration and the town archives. The concentrated effort to become more age friendly in Wenham aligns with the town’s current outreach and engagement activities being led by top elected town officials and staff. For the past two years, the town has prioritized becoming more responsive to residents. Multiple public forums have been established, such as the Citizens Leadership Academy, which reaches out to engage residents in learning about the inner workings of town government. The Academy creates a platform to gather more input from residents. As voices are heard, needs and priorities of residents are better understood. Key findings from this forum guide the town’s strategic planning efforts. Other ongoing town initiatives that align and intersect with the age friendly movement include: updates to the open space and recreation plan (statewide program) that serves all citizens, and affordable housing needs assessment and action planning. There is a history of volunteerism in Wenham. An influx of new, energized volunteers has recently emerged at the Wenham Village Improvement Society, Wenham Museum, and Council on Aging (COA) Board. This upsurge in civic engagement lends itself to moving the age friendly agenda forward, and will serve as a springboard for spreading the word about the age friendly initiative to the larger community. SeniorCare is the Area Agency on Aging providing a wide range of home care and other senior services to Wenham residents such as Meals on Wheels, Caregiver support specialist, options in home counseling and outreach program, and Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). The Wenham Council on Aging has strategically expanded its outreach to underserved adults in the past three years and currently offers local resources such as social services support, financial planning, health care services, fitness classes, lifelong learning programs, dementia-specific educational events, aging mastery programs, caregiver support groups, and social activities.Residents are encouraged to participate in the Town Senior tax work-off program, benefiting both the Town and its older adults. In the past two years, the town made a concerted effort to dramatically increase participation in the tax work-off program, from three people to ten, and has also increased the amount individuals are eligible to receive to the maximum allowed by the state.The COA owns and operates its own van to assist with transportation to medical appointments, social outings, and provides unlimited services to supermarkets, hair appointments, banks and more. The van service, which is responsive and flexible, covers a wide geographical catchment area in order to afford individuals access to both nearby locations and destinations further afield such as Salem, Danvers and Peabody. Van transportation is donation only (not fee for service) with $3.00 per ride recommended, but not required. This program is self-sustaining as van donations cover the cost of fuel and provide the local match funding required to purchase new vehicles through the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Community Transit Program Grant Program. The donation system also makes transportation accessible to adults across all socioeconomic and income strata. There are limits on evening and weekend availability of this service and there is better access to the commuter rail and bus services in the surrounding towns, making transportation an important area for examination in becoming more age friendly. The town recognizes the need to expand transportation options and will be looking for feedback from residents as part of the planning process and for setting out goals in this area. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority paratransit service, “The Ride” is available to Wenham residents and offers transportation to all of greater Boston. Seeking to enhance emergency medical response service to their residents, the Town of Wenham fire department is projected to provide basic life support medical care through a pilot program in 2018. Also, during the recent holiday plant delivery in 2017, a survey of needs from the fire department was distributed to 120 households of individuals age 85 and over. The timing is excellent in terms of identifying unmet needs and integrating more municipal departments in the age friendly effort. The COA distributes a monthly newsletter to 750 households. Although there has been an overall increase in number of older adults served through current programs and services, some older adults do not use the COA and town services. There is an uncertainty about the efficacy of communications about current programs and services available to older adults and how to reach those who are isolated. Based on feedback received during upcoming public forums, the town’s plan to become more age friendly will be more clearly defined. Preliminary ideas for how the town intends to become more age friendly include some of the following elements: a clearly articulated communication plan, greater transportation options, resource development for more adequate support of individuals aging in place, expanded community education and lifelong learning events, intergenerational exchanges and opportunities for older adults to get involved in the community in a meaningful way.