Westside boots up new senior help group

       Baby Boomers once filled maternity wards, then schools, then job markets.

Beth Roalstad

       Now they're starting to retire, including many on the Westside.
       Beyond that are many unknowns - key ones being whether the world is ready for the growing glut of senior citizens and whether they're ready for retirement and other aspects of aging.
       To that end, a new organization, the Innovations in Aging Collaborative (IIAC), has gradually taken form in Colorado Springs over the past few years. Its first major outreach efforts are occurring on the Westside - including a survey for people over age 55 that's was being finalized this week and will be available until October.
       Why the Westside? “We're starting here and hoping to keep going across the city,” said IIAC Executive Director Beth Roalstad. The idea “to help connect seniors with the resources available to them.”
       The Westside has two entities that already work a lot with seniors. Both are pleased to have the IIAC on board.
       Silver Key Senior Services is a 40-year-old non-profit whose executive director, Pat Ellis, is a member of the IIAC board. “We feel very positive about it,” Ellis said. “Our goal is to benefit the seniors in the community. The more we partner, the more that's going to happen.”
       The other entity is the Westside Community Cen-ter. Dick Siever, its executive director, sees opportunities to add resources for seniors with IIAC's advocacy assistance. He even hopes to bring back the “intergenerational” mix that was the center's original focus (actually part of its name) when City Parks started the facility in the early '90s.
       In a written piece, Roalstad describes the IIAC wish to create “iHubs [intergenerational hubs that] will bring together individuals, families, business, culture, continuous learning environments and services for all generations to strengthen neighborhoods and support older adults as they enjoy their community and stay in their homes longer.”
       Overall, Siever said he'd like the IIAC's Westside effort to “become a model for the rest of the city.”
       IIAC has been meeting with Westside groups involving seniors, including churches, homeowner associations, service clubs, the library and community gardeners, Roalstad elaborated.
       A recent presentation was to the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), the city-recognized citizen advocacy group for the older Westside. At the meeting, a few of the OWN members questioned whether IIAC might become an expensive and unnecessary extension of government. But Roalstad told the group that its funding is coming from private foundations, businesses and individuals.
       Also, in a separate interview, Ellis said she did not see IIAC as duplicating anything that Silver Key does.
       IIAC was founded in 2008 by area residents B.J. Scott and Barbara Yalich. They were concerned whether the city was ready for the Boomers' “senior tsunami,” as they put it. The entity has evolved since then, in 2012 facilitating a study titled “Aging in El Paso County” and filing for nonprofit status and this year hiring Roalstad as its first paid executive director.
       The study asks in its Introduction: “What will happen to society in the near future when an estimated 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65? The confluence of three demographic trends brings this issue to the center of our attention.”
       The three trends are the number of Boomers, increase in life expectancy and declining birthrate since 1964, the study elaborates.
       The IIAC survey was developed with input from the Community Center and groups Roalstad has met with. The target group for responses is people aged 55 and over, although anyone can respond, Roalstad said.
       The survey is formatted to list existing and/or potentially desirable resources or scenarios for the elderly. The respondent is given the chance to state if he/she believes any of those now exist and which are needed.
       Examples of the listed resources/scenarios in the survey are “free preventative screenings,” “sidewalks and street crossings that are safe and accessible,” “a local government that leads efforts to address the needs for older adults,” and “affordable in-home support services (homecare) that enable older adults to live independently.”
       The last one may be nearest to the heart of the IIAC. In a research-based opinion shared with Silver Key, IIAC believes that the high expense of assisted living - greater even than Medicare can cover - makes it preferable for seniors to live in their own homes as long as possible. This is even true when factoring in the costs of customizing residences to deal with physical frailties or handicaps, Roalstad pointed out.
       To get a copy of the survey, call the Westside Community Center at 385-7920 x100 or Roalstad at 286-9389 or e-mail IIAC.Roalstad@gmail.com.

Westside Pioneer article