Last year, Columbia Association (CA) completed “Community for a Lifetime: Columbia Association’s Comprehensive Plan for Serving the Older Adult Community,” which was approved in April 2014 by CA’s board of directors.

The project began in summer 2012 and included research, surveys and public meetings. CA examined local, regional and national best practices and trends relating to the aging population or that impact older adults.

The project team documented CA’s and the county’s services, facilities and programs that serve older adults, and the marketing and promotion of them. And CA looked at the possibility of developing new programs and amenities in the Columbia community for older adults seeking to age in place based on this analysis.

Plan Implementation

Putting a plan together was the first part. CA is now putting the plan into action, implementing several of the recommendations that came out of it. Those recommendations included the following.

  • Assisting The Village in Howard. CA provided an initial $10,000 startup grant in FY15, and additional startup funds may be available once the Village has begun to recruit members and open the doors for services.
  • Bolstering advocacy for expanded transportation options. CA and Howard County partnered on conducting a Bike Share Feasibility Study, and they also partnered on a pathway connection feasibility study to close a missing link from Downtown Columbia to the Patuxent Branch Trail.
  • Introducing group hikes and walks. Staff from various CA departments and divisions have discussed ways to contribute to this goal and also are also considering other resources and community groups that CA may want to reach out to as it develops a program.
  • Exploring opportunities to introduce additional park furnishings. CA has added benches at both Wilde Lake and Lake Kittamaqundi in recent months. It also will consider installing additional benches in response to requests at other high use areas.
  • Coordinating with Howard County’s Office on Aging as it develops its own master plan for older adult facilities and services.
  • Including programs for older adults at CA’s Haven on the Lake.
  • Continuing to partner with the county government and other organizations.
  • Implementing a home repair clearinghouse. CA looked into this and determined that the need was already being met and continues to be provided. CA partners with the Howard County Office on Aging for the office’s Home Accessibility and Repair Program, and provides $25,000 in grants each year specifically for income-qualified Columbia residents. In FY14, the program provided 11 repairs and modifications — including emergency electrical repair, handrails, grab bars, stair glides, emergency heat repairs and others — totaling more than $23,000.

More Programs for Seniors

There are numerous other updates.

  • CA is working with the Harper’s Choice Community Association and the Korean-American Senior Association for cultural and educational events and activities. CA’s Senior Advisory Committee is working with village community associations, and together they have developed monthly social events at various village centers.
  • A pilot program for the racquet sport known as Pickleball has been brought to Columbia. Although it’s open to people of all ages, it is of particular interest to older adults. Meanwhile, at Columbia Athletic Club, upper body strength equipment has been replaced and reconfigured, and new machines have been added that allow for complete accessibility for members with mobility challenges.
  • There is an intergenerational program through which teens from CA’s Youth and Teen Center teach seniors how to use iPads. This is a partnership with the Howard County Library System’s East Columbia 50+ Center.
  • CA expanded adult swim times at Locust Park pool and added water aerobics classes. It also held outdoor yoga and exercise classes during the summer under the pavilion at Stevens Forest Pool. These programs were well-attended by older adults. CA’s Columbia Art Center offers arts and crafts workshops for older adults once a month at Longwood Senior Center, The Bain Center and North Laurel Community Center, and it is developing rotating art shows at Vantage House.
  • Regarding the topic of mobility, CA offers a Senior Events Shuttle, which has received additional funding from the Howard County transportation department to support more trips. CA is looking to increase its outreach and awareness efforts so the shuttle can reach a segment of the population that may be socially isolated. Also, CA’s Volunteer Center has a continued partnership with Neighbor Ride.
  • The Active Transportation Action Agenda approved by CA’s board in 2012 identified intersections in need of safety improvements. Howard County received grant money in 2014 for improvements, four of which were located in Columbia. CA also is aware of the county’s study of transit routing.

There are various other recommendations. CA’s support includes advocacy and encouragement, partnerships, implementing new programs or expanding existing programs and services, analyzing issues and making changes.

CA has placed a priority on certain recommendations heading into 2015 and looking into the future and will continue with its ongoing efforts to enhance programs and services for Columbia’s growing older adult community. The comprehensive plan can be seen at ColumbiaAssociation.org/older adults.

Michelle Miller is director of Columbia Association’s Department of Community Services. She can be reached at Michelle.Miller@ColumbiaAssociation.org.