South Orange & Maplewood Partner to Hire ‘Age Friendly Community’ Organizer

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Maplewood and South Orange have agreed to share the hiring of a part-time employee to run a new initiative called “SOMA: Two Towns for All Ages.”

“We have interviews scheduled for [Feb. 2] and hope to have a selection/hire in the coming weeks with a target start date of March 1,” South Orange Village Administrator Barry Lewis told Village Green in an email.

It’s all a part of an initiative to ensure that the senior population of the two towns continues to thrive and grow. Besides wanting to make it easier for residents who love the towns to stay in the towns, both Maplewood and South Orange leaders have recognized the need to hang on to “empty nesters” who help support the school district without putting a strain on its services as enrollment continues to increase.

Naomi Savitz, who administered research, focus groups, forums and a survey on aging-in-place for the two towns through the Grotta Fund, presented her findings and recommendations to both towns’ governing bodies in January to update them on the initiative and unveil the “SOMA: Two Towns for All Ages” logo (see below).

Savitz also presented some interesting demographics: 13% of the South Orange population is over age 65, while 12% of Maplewood residents are 65 and over. Both towns senior populations are projected to increase dramatically over the next five years  — should current residents “age in place.”

There’s the rub. In order for current residents to age in place, South Orange and Maplewood must address several issues to become truly “age friendly communities.”

Savitz’ research identified several areas of concern/work, such as:

  • an insufficient amount of affordable housing
  • concern over high local taxes
  • underutilized jitney service
  • maintenance of municipal buildings and public spaces

Savitz also pointed out several things the towns are doing correctly — such as South Orange’s senior discount card and the wide array of recreational activities offered by both towns to seniors.

Savitz also outlined recommendations for the towns to take, including the hiring of a “dedicated project champion to coordinate services and programs for residents to age in place” and the creation of a SOMA Senior Advisory Committee.

“Most people want to age in place, but most cities and towns are not organized to provide what the aging need  — housing, social participation, respect, work, communication, transportation, outdoor space, health services,” Savitz said.

However, she saw a difference in South Orange and Maplewood, where the two towns have come together to seek and win funding to take on senior issues. This enthusiasm carries through from elected officials to residents. Savitz said that committee groups that she ran consistently  attracted “40 people showing up for meetings.”

“The level of commitment from seniors in Maplewood and South Orange on those committees was just unparalleled,” said Savitz.

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