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How Much of an Elder-Friendly Community is Enumclaw?

The question was posed during an open community meeting Thursday looking into how the city can better serve its aging population.

There were several take-aways from Thursday night's open community conversation about Enumclaw's potential to become an even better elder-friendly community than it already is. According to Enumclaw Senior Activity Center manager Jobyna Nickum:

  • Those in the 85+ and 100+ age brackets are the fastest growing segments of our population
  • A 'birth dearth' is occurring worldwide meaning that people of child-bearing age aren't bearing as many children -- if at all
  • The average baby boomer has more parents than children, taking into account their in-laws and possible step families

The conclusion is that not too soon in the distant future, and even now, you will have more elders to take care of into old age rather than children.

It's a burden that will be hard to shoulder for people who try to do it alone. "It's really our communities that take care of us," Nickum concluded.

Is Enumclaw doing all it can to provide for the needs of our growing elder population, then? That was a question Nickum posed to about a dozen citizens who attended the meeting at St. Elizabeth Hospital Thursday night.

Enumclaw does many things right, Nickum said. The Senior Center remains the only one in four counties that still provides a hot meal delivery program for seniors ().

The and senior bus transportation offered by the Center are examples of services that many senior centers in other surrounding cities don't or no longer provide.

A local effort, Franciscan Health System Hospice & Palliative Care Services’ Enumclaw Improving Care Through the End of Life was a nationally recognized program, though due to funding cuts it no longer exists.

"We were at the cutting edge of that," she said. “But there is so much more being done.”

Like what?

In Puyallup, Nickum explained, an Aging in Place Committee has installed crosswalk flags downtown so pedestrians are more visible when they cross at an intersection. A bucket attached to a post contains several bright orange flags and as a pedestrian crosses the street, they pick up a flag and walk it across to the other side where they can deposit the flag in another bucket. (see website for illustrations)

It has cut down on pedestrian-involved accidents a lot, Nickum said.

On the Key Peninsula, The Mustard Seed Project organizes educational and film series where they show films that inspire reflection and discussion about aging, removing the stigmatization that growing old is something to be avoided and helping people to look at it with a realistic and even appreciative eye.

The Mustard Seed Project has also provided inspiration for a fledgling movement on the Plateau to for seniors, which was another need that those who attended identified.

More opportunities or facilities to help get seniors moving and get exercise was also suggested.

For many who attended the meeting, the needs they identified tended to lean toward the practical side:

  • More benches in the downtown area and along park trails where seniors might want to take a stroll but need to sit down for frequent breaks
  • A chair in each store so that a senior, while shopping, has a place to rest
  • Better wheelchair and walker accessibility on city sidewalks

More benches and sidewalk changes cost money and city budgets being what they are, may be hard to come by, Nickum said. However, the Senior Center has developed strong relations with the Enumclaw Youth and Family Services next door, she said. The possibility of encouraging more interaction between community elders and youths -- particularly scouts and students who might be working on senior projects -- might prove to be an important stepping stone in moving beyond the conception phase of building an elder-friendly community into one of action.

Thursday's meeting was in part to gauge what interest there was in the community to start up a senior-focused committee or task force to advocate for these needs. A follow up meeting is in the works for April. If you'd like to contribute ideas, partnership possibilities or more, please contact Jobyna Nickum at jnickum@ci.enumclaw.wa.us or 360-825-4741.

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