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Virtual Age-Friendly Fair Highlights Path to Better NJ

More than 260 people – including key government, business, non-profit and academic leaders -participated in New Jersey’s Age-Friendly Virtual Fair, a first-of-its-kind showcase of the diverse work underway to make the Garden State a better place to grow old.

The Sept. 15 virtual conference featured 34 virtual “table” presentations on myriad subjects that encompass or align with age-friendly efforts – from snapshot looks at strategies to improve transportation, housing, social inclusion, communication and collaboration within a community to detailed examinations of how New Jersey’s physical infrastructure, social support services and elder-care systems can be redesigned to better support aging in place.

Among the dignitaries who offered remarks as part of the event was Kaylee McGuire, New Jersey’s Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Human Services who spoke of her agency’s ongoing work to develop and launch a blueprint for age-friendly communities across the state.

“Together, through age-friendly work, we can develop and enhance outdoor spaces, transportation, affordable housing, social networks, employment opportunities, communication, and community health services,” McGuire said. “The Department envisions a New Jersey where all generations can thrive together.”

The virtual fair was planned by a multi-organizational team, including the Rutgers School of Social Work in partnership with New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well, a non-profit advocacy group whose executive director Cathy Rowe was among the early age-friendly community leaders in the state. Grotta Fund for Senior Care and The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation – two foundations that helped fund and form the Age-Friendly North Jersey alliance.

“NJAAW has been a strong supporter of age friendly communities for over a decade now, and we are thrilled to see not only the progress but the momentum that is building in this area. Having worked for 4 years building age-friendly efforts in South Orange and Maplewood, I understand both the excitement and challenges communities face. This virtual fair really opened up opportunities for people to connect, learn and see the possibilities they can bring to their communities”  Cathy Rowe

The goal of the event was to encourage collaboration and idea-sharing among the myriad players involved in age-friendly work, a list that includes community leaders, service providers, older residents, government officials, planners, developers, students, educators, community groups, funders, and more.

“Based on years of research, practice, and advocacy, we know that singular age-friendly programs, projects, groups, and community initiatives can be incredibly powerful on their own,” said Dr. Emily Greenfield, professor of social work at Rutgers. “But they have even greater chance for long-term and equitable impact when done in harmony with those of others.’

 Participation by a number of state lawmakers, Murphy Administration officials, county government and municipal leaders is encouraging because age-friendly strategies must be adopted at all levels of government – and across all government divisions – in partnership with the private sector.

“Environmental and climate changes, transportation infrastructure, affordable housing development, property tax policies, design of parks and other public spaces, election outcomes, public health safety, Medicaid spending – decisions made across all of these sectors can make or break our ability to age with health and dignity in the communities of our choice – for the current generation of older adults and the multitudes to follow, “ said Julia Stoumbos, director of aging in place programs for the Taub Foundation. “More and more people in younger generations will be living to ages 100 and beyond and our community infrastructure must be designed with this in mind.

Leaders of the Age-Friendly North Jersey alliance work in regular partnership with a number of organizations in the state that play a lead role in aging issues. Representatives of many of those organizations – such as AARP New Jersey, New Jersey Future, Justice in Aging, and Corporation for Supportive Housing -, led presentations at the virtual fair.

“It was gratifying to partner with the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, NJAAW, and Rutgers University and to showcase the local, county, state and national leaders and supportive dignitaries who are enthusiastically and collaboratively encouraging ways of better aging in New Jersey,” said Renie Carniol, director of The Grotta Fund. “As a funder in Northern New Jersey, we are pleased to foster so many positive outcomes from our Age-Friendly community grantees and others. We are eager to hear about how this information spurs new leaders, networks, initiatives, and policies in our state that will optimize and enhance quality of life as people age.”

Click here to view the program and other supporting materials for the virtual fair.