Woodstock Age-Friendly Community: Terry Willcockson's Story
For the next decade, 10,000 people every day across the US are turning 65. For planning purposes, that group of citizens increases 40-50%, while all other demographic groups decrease. By 2035, cities in this country will be serving more people ages 65 and older than children under 18 for the first time in history. What is being done to recognize, serve, and even benefit from this undeniable change in our society?
Developed by the World Health Organization more than a decade ago, the Age-Friendly Livable Community program is administered in the U.S. by AARP and looks at existing programs and policies through the “age-friendly lens” to ensure areas such as housing, transportation, healthcare, and public facilities serve ages 8-80. The program costs nothing to participate — only a commitment to identify and improve services for the rapidly increasing number of older adults.
Woodstock is the only McHenry County Age-Friendly participant. When the city applied to this program in 2019, there were six communities in Illinois and 320 across the country. In the past three years, those numbers have doubled, showing increasing awareness and positive recognition of long-term community benefits. Even though Woodstock is the county seat, there were no immediate services located here for older adults. This lack of proximity resulted in a serious lack of awareness of available resources for a growing segment of our population.
A small group had been meeting for a few months, but the pandemic hit and limited social interaction opportunities. We needed professional guidance to outline attainable goals. Our Transformational Grant application was based on a proposal from the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies to obtain the community outreach and statistical documentation needed to produce our Action Plan. This attracted a dynamic group of area professionals to serve as our Steering Committee. The input provided a compelling and credible document that then earned the IL American Planning Association’s 2021 Best Practice Award for Innovation in public service. This resulted in substantial publicity, increasing the program’s acceptance by staff, elected officials, and the community. As an amazing show of support, The Foundation honored the City of Woodstock with our second Transformational Grant award to implement the priority objectives identified in our Action Plan. The number of projects that have been directly accomplished through this funding will enrich lives of Woodstock community residents for decades to come.
The most-desired objective from our Action Plan was the establishment of a staffed, drop-in community center for older adults. Using Transformational Grant funds, we were able to partner with Dorr Township to make this become reality in their beautiful but under-utilized space. SOAR (Serving Older Adult Residents) at Dorr Community Center — also known as SOAR@Dorr — now benefits from an enthusiastic, full-time director who offers a monthly calendar of innovative educational and social events for Woodstock residents. Through the SOAR@Dorr Center, representatives from area service organizations now come to Woodstock to this easily accessed location on a regular basis. These are invaluable connections now made more convenient for our residents, along with the increased number of community programs and events held.
Additional projects include the Growing Older Together (We’ve GOT this!) Information Hub that can be found at www.woodstockilagefriendly.com. This easy-to-read, large-font information portal offers “one-stop shopping” to find friends and fun while promoting use of city facilities. The hub contains info for all types of activities, events, and attractions found in our community without requiring lengthy searching. A new Older Adult Area at Woodstock Public Library was also created, providing comfortable seating, a puzzle table, and a magnifying reading glass near the large print section. Our success with these projects attracted funding from AARP this year to help create another fun amenity — the Woodstock Woods Walk Intergenerational Nature Trail at Emricson Park. Part of a collaboration with the Land Conservancy, the trail features a wide, crushed limestone path through a restored area of beautiful but badly overgrown oak woods. Along the trail are several natural play areas and educational signs, creating a safe and lovely family outing.
All this is a prelude to the city’s most ambitious related project — the Nature’s Way Intergenerational Inclusive Playground. This unique, recreational project will offer safe, rubber surfacing and colorful, custom-designed, accessible equipment for enjoyment by all ages and all mobilities. In addition, an area of adult exercise equipment, picnic tables, shade, and benches will offer healthy outdoor interaction for older adults. The Foundation has generously helped support this project with initial funding and a dedicated donor site. Donations are so very appreciated anytime at https://thecfmc.org/donate/?form=FUNLVFVRQTX. Additional community fundraising will be launched in spring 2023 in Woodstock.
We see in the news every day wonderful stories about active adults reaching the age of 100 and beyond. Attitudinal change starts at the top. The more city and community leaders can provide these expanded age-related opportunities and highlight their benefits to encourage participation, the longer residents will remain active and productive. Economic savings will result from ongoing enhancement to our residents’ physical, social, and emotional wellbeing.
Working with The Foundation has been the most rewarding part of my personal growth and success over the past eight years as the City of Woodstock Grants Manager. Their programs are incredibly well-run and presented, and their generosity has truly enriched the lives of virtually every resident throughout McHenry County in one way or another. My belief in and appreciation for The Foundation’s value to our lives is evidenced by my own personal request to establish a donor-advised fund. Their willingness to set up and manage this type of small, interest-based charitable endeavor is an amazing way to invest inherited or unexpected funds with great satisfaction derived from ongoing positive outcomes.
Connect with Your Purpose in McHenry County. To learn how you can impact lives in our communities or for information on funding opportunities, connect with us today: https://thecfmc.org