By Kathryn LeBrasseur, Alexandria, MN

Age Friendly Community is a title and an honor. It is one we have had as a community since 2014. It is a title now being sought by the State of Minnesota! Most of you have never heard of it or given it much thought, but there is a great deal of effort being put into the title and I can’t help but brag about all that wonderful effort being expended by many on your and my behalf.

Historically: In 2014 Alexandria was named an Age Friendly Community. This was a national award given by AARP and WHO and at the time we were the 75th city in the nation to receive this honor! Not only that, but we were the first rural community. For the last two years, we have been named the best city in Minnesota to retire to. Obviously, we have quality of life here. Our population growth figures attest to it! Now we are involved in helping our state secure the title of Age Friendly Minnesota. From city to state – wow!

When the state decided to get involved in this area we were ready. We were already working on the three-year plan required by the first honor. A committee was developed with Dian Lopez and Suzanne Sudmeier sharing the chairmanship of defining the areas in need of improvement and to provide the leadership to bring about that improvement. The driving force efforts of Dian Lopez in securing the first title and her efforts to maintain that status have resulted in her being named to the Governor’s Council and one of her main functions is to help define and secure quality of life for all in rural communities. In order to decide upon the areas needing improvement, the cooperation of all governmental agencies, businesses providing everything from recreation to health services, and nonprofits need to be coordinated. And they are! Currently, representatives of 23 existing programs are meeting regularly to share ideas and combine offerings to make life in our area great for all. All interested groups and persons interested in the process are welcome to participate. In fact, involvement is so great and growing that a couple more persons, Toni Tebben and Carol Strong, have been added to the steering committee.

The two areas currently established for priority efforts to improve in our area are transportation and health services – physical and mental.

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Areas being pursued and developed in the health care area are in home care, tele-health, a Hospice Cottage, funding sources and working around barriers necessarily established due to the pandemic. Affordable in-home help and availability of it are critical. Mental health support for all ages is a priority. It is also vital to compile a listing of all services available and to keep it up to date with all the current changes involved.

The main concerns being pursued in transportation are access to transportation and how to provide these services. Availability and affordability need effort. Utilizing volunteers is a hope for the future.

One of our greatest needs was and is making citizens know about what services are already available and where volunteers are needed to provide the services. We are fortunate in that our local media services share our strong commitment to make the lives of our citizens better. KXRA, Cool TV, Echo Press and others provide us with time and space to spread the word. Agencies like Love Inc., United Way, and Helping Hands stay involved with newsletters and updates. Help is available that can be accepted with pride and trust. Some based on income. Many are not. But it is there and improving.

This is a progress report. My pride is sharing with you that these vital things are being done together. That has been the wonderful secret of quality of life in our area. The pandemic has fostered great achievements in this area also. Note the increased recreational areas developed and the help of all programs to enhance life for children and parents isolated due to our situation. Just want to let you know that instead of planning riots, our community fosters quality of life!

Kathryn LeBrasseur is a former executive director of the Alexandria Senior Center and has been involved in a variety of community organizations, many focusing on senior issues. “In the Know” is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.