Keeping House: Age friendly Beaver Valley proves to be a success story

Alex Atamanenko discusses Fruitvale's dedication to programs and services for seniors.

When the Village of Fruitvale decided to update its Official Community Plan in 2009, it made a decision to include age-friendly and inclusive objectives in its future vision for the community. The purpose of those objectives was to ensure that programs and services for seniors became an ongoing goal for the village. The dramatic success of the strategy that the Village used and the programs and services it has since implemented has made Age Friendly Beaver Valley a model for other communities to emulate in their community planning for seniors.

As a first step the Village applied for and received $10,000 to hold focus groups with seniors, seniors’ groups and organizations, retirees and near-retirees to identify the interests, concerns and barriers of the Fruitvale area’s aging population. Armed with good information about the wants and needs of its aging population, the Village developed its age-friendly objectives and policies for inclusion in the new Official Community Plan.

Step two involved securing project funding, which allowed the Village to hire a half-time coordinator to create senior-directed programming based on the information that was collected from the earlier focus groups. An Age-Friendly steering committee made up of seniors was struck to oversee the work and to be a resource for the coordinator. The programs that were developed over the summer of 2012 included everything from bus tours and outings to fitness classes and a cribbage club, a handyperson resource list, a buddy system to avoid isolation and monthly “Thanks for Being Our Seniors” free luncheons, which regularly serve upwards of 140 people.

“I can’t stress enough how enjoyable it is to go to these events,” said Lila Cresswell, the Village of Fruitvale chief administrative officer. “Council and staff drop in and talk to the seniors, the mayor puts on an apron and serves coffee and tea. We have a dedicated group of volunteers that do the cooking and kitchen, and local school children come and serve as well.”

Because of the immediate and significant success of the programs, the joint Regional Recreation Service of Fruitvale, Montrose and Electoral Area A agreed to fund the coordinator’s position for another two years. Other funding has been forthcoming from the Columbia Basin Trust and the federal New Horizons for seniors program. Fruitvale was recognized as an Age Friendly BC Community by the province, and accepted a grant of $1000 to acknowledge the commitment of the many volunteers from the entire Beaver Valley who are involved in running the programs. A huge amount of the success for Age Friendly Beaver Valley is due to the dedication and hard work of the seniors’ coordinator, Vickie Fitzpatrick.

More support for initiatives has come from the establishment of community partnerships with the Beaver Valley Blooming Society, the West Kootenay Volunteer Driver Program and local citizens. A “Growing Our Roots” community garden in downtown Fruitvale was created and will be maintained with help from children and youth. The Age Friendly program also partnered with Fruitvale Elementary to develop a seniors’ craft and knowledge centre in the school with the New Horizons for Seniors funding. The intention is for seniors to teach youth their skills and knowledge and for the youth to teach computer skills to the seniors. The “Sharing Our Roots” centre began development at the school in November and is off to a very successful start.

Fruitvale Mayor Patricia Cecchini presented the highlights of the Age Friendly Beaver Valley program to the Small Talk community forum at the 2013 Union of BC Municipalities conference this fall. She calls the program a win-win-win situation for all involved.

“It has drawn our community closer together, developed partnerships, provided healthy, active programs for seniors, created a buzz in the Beaver Valley and given us recognition at the federal, provincial and local level,” she said.

I would like to congratulate all those involved in making this program possible. Bravo, Beaver Valley

Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior