Swampscott Council on Aging to ramp up outreach to local seniors – Wicked Local

Nic Notarangelo  |  Wicked Local

The Swampscott Council on Aging received a $7,800 grant from the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging in January to expand marketing and outreach to the town’s aging population.

The grant is also expected to support the development of a new, easily accessible and user-friendly website for the town’s Senior Center and the Swampscott for All Ages Committee.

Swampscott’s Senior Center, which has had its Dementia Friendly Initiative in place since last year, added its Aging Friendly Initiative to its repertoire this past month, according to Senior Center Director Heidi Whear. Whear said the council worked closely with UMass Boston to develop their strategies.

“In 2019, we hired UMass Boston to conduct a needs assessment regarding aging-friendly and dementia-friendly initiatives,” said Whear.

The nearly 80-page report of their findings became the basis for the town’s action plan to support the aging population, Whear said.

“We built a committee and brought together folks in the community that were interested in helping us out, submitted that action plan last month, and it got approved just within the last two weeks,” said Whear.

According to Swampscott Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald, the town is among the oldest communities demographically in Essex County and one of the oldest demographically in the Commonwealth.

 “We’ve really focused carefully on the leadership of our All Ages Committee led by Bob Powell and Heidi Whear,” he said. “They’ve worked with the Swampscott Select Board and town administration to focus on this emerging demographic that has been underserved while we’ve prioritized our educational system and public safety.”

The Aging Friendly Initiative looked at obstacles for this population, such as staircases going up to the front door, or a house not having a bathroom and bedroom on the first floor. Transportation-wise, this initiative looked into alternatives that would allow people to get to a doctor’s appointment or the grocery store.

Swampscott, which spends among the highest per capita on public safety according to Fitzgerald, is looking to change their focus and strike a balance along a spectrum of care.

“Swampscott is supported by some of the most empathetic and compassionate and really inspired citizens on our All Ages committee,” said Fitzgerald. “That committee is literally the largest committee that we have in town. Physically we have more belly buttons on that committee than any other.”

The committee also intends to use the grant money to release a resource guide that will be sent out to all members of the community, Whear said. With an emphasis on remote participation, the expansion to provide at-home print and digital access has now been necessary for Senior Center programs and their resources.

“Our senior population in Swampscott is growing drastically,” said Whear. “Over the next ten years, our senior population will increase from under twenty-five percent of the town’s population to over thirty-three percent. Furthermore, eighty-five percent of these seniors indicate they plan to age in place in their homes. It’s imperative that we do what we can to reach them where they are with both print and online resources.”

Whear, who has been the Senior Center director for over a year and a half and the All Ages Committee Director for over three, has received high praise for her constant efforts in the community, including some from the town administrator himself.

In Swampscott specifically, Whear has helped start a separate initiative called Seaglass Village, which is a group of seniors who volunteer and provide care for no cost to other seniors.

Whear also wants to have a resource room within the center. This room would have computers that senior citizens could use for things like Zoom and accessing doctor appointments through the use of telehealth. Employees at the Swampscott Senior Center are working to help teach these citizens the easiest way to use these tools.

Funding for the Senior Center has actually doubled over the past three years and two new full-time positions had been added as well based on Fitzgerald’s findings. They want to go beyond just bingo and Meals on Wheels to develop a program that focuses on mental health and families that are multigenerational who are dealing with complexities of all ages.

“My dream is to take a look at the Senior Center and possibly make a center for active living rather than just a Senior Center,” said Whear. “We really want to integrate and have multigenerational programming while still maintaining our integrity as a senior center.”

A little over half of Swampscott’s seniors have visited the Senior Center, so the town is hoping this grant will finally allow them to understand what will reel seniors in.

The Senior Center intends to launch their newest publication and website in late spring.

—Nic Notarangelo is a student at Endicott College studying journalism.