Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley Community Forum

More than 125 community members gathered on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 to envision a more livable, inclusive and respectful Lehigh Valley at the United Way Age-Friendly Community Forum.

Age-Friendly isn’t about other people. This is about us,” said Laura Poskin, Director of Age-Friendly Pittsburgh. “It’s about making neighborhoods more inclusive and respectful for every generation.”

The event started with exciting news from Marc Rittle, (who was then) Vice President, Impact, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. “In 2014, we set a bold community goal to increase the number of seniors whose basic needs are met at home by 50% by 2022. We’re proud to announce that we’ve achieved that goal five years early,” announced Rittle.

Adding to the momentum, (now retired) State President of AARP Pennsylvania Joann Grossi revealed that Lehigh and Northampton counties have become the first dual-counties to join the World Health Organization/AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. Members of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities become part of a global network of communities that are committed to giving their older residents the opportunity to live rewarding, productive and safe lives. The AARP identifies eight domains of livability to help communities become great for people of all ages:

  • Outdoor spaces and buildings
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Social participation
  • Respect and social inclusion
  • Civic participation and employment
  • Communication and information
  • Community and health services

“In Pennsylvania, there are almost five million people over 50 who need walkable streets and safe, affordable housing. What are we going to do to make sure they live and play safely?” asked Grossi.

As the keynote speaker, Poskin offered some answers and was joined by Jason Jablon, Director of Programming for Lively Pittsburgh. The two work together in Pittsburgh and brought their best practices to the group gathered in Iaccoca Hall at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.

Together, Poskin and Jablon began by asking guests to close their eyes and imagine themselves older, “whatever age that is to you.” Next, they instructed, “Imagine yourself at that age in your current home and your current neighborhood. What works? What doesn’t?”

Audience members identified challenges they’d have maintaining their properties or accessing necessities such as grocery stores without the ability to drive. Poskin reflected that, in her community, challenges with transportation and navigation are common.

“It’s a social justice issue,” remarked Poskin. “We all need to access public spaces. Our streets are public spaces.”

During the event, Jablon and Poskin encouraged guests to start an action plan by identifying the assets, challenges and possible innovations in each of the eight domains of livability.

“As we celebrate our successes, we realize that there is much work to be done. Today is the first step, and we look forward to working with everyone in the community toward this goal in the months ahead,” summarized Carmen Bell, Director, Healthy Aging, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley.

Speakers also included Lanetha Mathews-Schultz, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Political Science, Muhlenberg College and Becky Bradley, Executive Director, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.