THE BLOG

Why I Organized a Senior Advisory Commission for My City

05/14/2015 05:43 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2016

The City of Twin Falls, Idaho, where I live is on the verge of an explosive growth of baby boomer and older adults. Retirees are relocating to the area to enjoy an improved quality of life. As you can imagine, current and future senior citizens have needs that can be more challenging to solve in those golden years, such as affordable housing and transportation. I didn't realize all of these challenges when I first proposed the Senior Citizen Advisory Commission. I'm originally from Liberia, and I understand and appreciate that any community that wants to thrive must honor its elderly population. It was that mindset and upbringing that inspired me to propose the City's first ever Commission that was passed unanimously by our City Council. I believe it's one of the best vehicles to empower senior adults. I'm convinced that every community needs one.

Advice Not Services

The Commission does not exist to provide services. There are organizations in our community that deliver meals, provide assistance with activities of daily living, offer transportation to medical appointments, offer wellness and fitness classes and even social activities. That's not the role of the Commission, and I don't advice that for one you may organize. The last thing I wanted was for the Commission to compete with organizations whose mission it is to serve. The Commission allows participants to voice concerns and propose solutions on issues that affect older adults. It provides a voice to our mayor and City Council that may be missing on issues pertinent to senior citizens from all walks of life. For example, I envision seniors reviewing the City's strategic plan for the upcoming years and providing meaningful feedback and recommendations from the perspective of older adults.

Ordinary Citizens Participate

I had an opportunity to co-draft the initial bylaws, and I specifically stated that members cannot be employees or volunteers from existing organizations that provide services to senior citizens. The reason is to ensure that the Commission does not become an extension of those organizations. It really should be a Commission by the people, for the people. Some cities with similar commission take a different approach. They do provide services and require a budget to do so. As a result, the directors and board members of those organizations sit on the Commission. This Commission requires little to no budget, to date. Rather than load it with just the same people already active in conversations about senior living issues, the goal is to open it up to those who have not yet been invited to sit at the table.

Age Requirement

The age requirement for participation is age 65 and over. The intent was to align that age with the City's classification of what makes a senior citizen. If I had to do it again, I would lower that age to 50. That would grow the Commission faster and include more working older adults. Even though I help facilitate the Commission now because it's in its infant stages, I cannot participate because I do not meet the age requirements.

Marketing the Commission

It's not easy starting a Commission that requires participation from a population where mobility and transportation can be difficult. One of the lessons I've learned so far is to use direct marketing and public service announcements from the beginning. The traditional notifications that the City uses, such as notices sent to the local newspaper and posting it on the Council Chamber doors, were not effective. I've recently recorded public service announcements to be aired on various radio stations, appeared on the news to discuss it, and on AM radio for an interview. I've also asked organizations that do provide services to senior citizens to share announcements with their list. They can include fliers in meals they deliver and announcements in newsletters. The City will also share a written announcement to be included in the water bill that all residents receive.

The problems we face in the City of Twin Falls are not unique. Cities are across the country are looking for ways to help senior citizens. Why not propose a similar Commission where you live? Give senior adults a voice and empower them in the process.