Published January 31, 2019


NORTH READING —It was bound to happen. First it was the Baby Boom and now it’s the Aging Boom.

In spite of our culture’s obsession with youthfulness — or perhaps because of it — the ability of a community to serve the needs of its aging empty nesters has become just as paramount as providing state-of-the art schools, tree-lined streets and a low crime rate.

And despite all the hype surrounding the influence of millennials on modern culture, according to the AARP the fact remains that “adults ages 60 and older are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population and will make up 23 percent of the Commonwealth’s population by 2035.”

To assist the town in dealing with this impending reality, the town’s leaders have signed on to join the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities.

The Select Board invited Director of Elder Services Mary Prenney, members of the town’s Council on Aging, and Antron Watson, the Age-Friendly Director of AARP of Massachusetts to Monday night’s meeting to explain the benefits to the town of earning this designation.

“Back in 2006 AARP was approached by the World Health Organization (WHO) because there was going to be a big boom on aging and communities need to be prepared for that,” Watson said.

Since AARP’s mission is “focused on addressing aging” Watson said this program is about encouraging elected leaders to make a commitment that they will actively “take the steps necessary to ensure citizens of ages can age comfortably in their communities.”

This includes integrating into a community’s long-range planning walkable streets, transportation for non-drivers and adequate housing, all of which can impact the ability of older adults to lead independent lives and to remain integrated into their community.

The best part is, it’s free to join. According to the AARP, membership in the network enables the community “to 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.”

Much like business networking, networking with other age-friendly communities will enable the town to have access to this global network along with AARP’s aging and civil society experts, programs, best practices and challenges, both here and abroad.

The partnership also focuses on encouraging older adults to become advocates for their needs, including volunteering, social inclusion and efforts to combat social isolation among older citizens.

Since 2017 when Gov. Baker signed an Executive Order establishing the Governor’s Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts, about 38 communities have joined the network, Watson said. Nearby communities included in the network are Wakefield, Stoneham, Andover and Lawrence.

Prenney said she is very excited to be joining this network especially since North Reading’s population is aging faster than the statewide average with current trends indicating that 40% of the population will be 60 or older within 10 to 15 years. Maybe 70 is the new 50.

She said many of the advocacy ideas the AARP network encourages communities to do are currently being undertaken by her department, the COA and the Social Services Action Team as work continues toward creating more senior housing, planning for the intergenerational community center as part of the state grant announced last summer, and expanding transportation options such as the town’s affiliation with the MVRTA for out-of-town medical appointments and the Senior Center’s in-town van access.

“One of the challenges for North Reading short-term is we don’t have enough housing for seniors so they have to stay in their homes longer. What I love about this is now we have a network to reach into so they can stay in those homes a little bit easier and a little more comfortably,” Select Board Chairman Mike Prisco said. He added that Prenney’s staff has done “all that you can do with the resources you’ve been provided… but now this takes us to that next level of reach in a bigger network.” He applauded the COA members for bring this idea forward.

The board voted 4-0 “to authorize the chair to sign a letter of interest in the program.” Prisco and board members Kate Manupelli, Andy Schultz and Bob Mauceri voted in favor. Member Steve O’Leary was absent.

“Mr. O’Leary unfortunately couldn’t make it last minute but I know this is very important to him and his family, as you know his mom (had) made an investment in our aging community and this goes along with their beliefs and core commitment to the community. If he was here I know we’d have his full support,” Prisco said.