Leadership Westerville: Class of 2021 creates online resource guide for older adults

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group
Leadership Westerville's class of 2021 created an online resource hub for senior citizens that lists services by category, including food services, health and wellness, transportation, in-home assistance, engagement and lifestyle, pet care and legal assistance.

An online directory of services for Westerville senior citizens is now available, thanks to the 2021 Leadership Westerville class.

When the Leadership Westerville board and the class of 2021 decided to cancel Service Day, a day of service focused on helping seniors in the community, they identified two areas of need they could address as small-group projects to still assist senior citizens, said Matt Lofy, LW executive director.

The first project that was launched in February was Westerville Snow Patrol, pairing older residents and residents with disabilities with nearby neighbors who volunteer to assist them with snow removal.

The second project is the online resource, which is the first step with efforts to provide a hub of local services helping local seniors, Lofy said.

The directory lists services by category, including food services, health and wellness, transportation, in-home assistance, engagement and lifestyle, pet care and legal assistance.

“Once we decided to cancel Service Day, we knew we wanted to help our seniors in some capacity, so naturally, we collaborated with the city and their Age-Friendly Initiative to make sure we contributed,” Lofy said. “This is just the start for the community resource and our alumni committee will carry it beyond their graduation from our leadership program this year with more to come.”

He said the Age-Friendly Initiative team, working through the Westerville Planning and Development Department, surveyed and met with Westerville seniors to identify their needs, and they met with community partners to discuss the same.

“We heard in the sessions that I was part of, access to information related to services and opportunities was not there, so the resource was the first step in filling that community need,” he said. “Print pieces and other options will be in the works.”

Jason Woltja, who was part of the May 12 Leadership Westerville graduating class, said he felt a spark when Lofy made the pitch for an online resources page.

“In addition to some website design coursework during my undergraduate degree, I had just completed a Columbus State (Community College) course in HTML and CSS coding for the web,” he said. “It was an example of being at the right place at the right time. I immediately reached out to Matt and volunteered to help out with getting the class’ content out onto the webpage.”

Woltja, who’s a supervisor at Columbus State, said his small group was responsible for gathering a list of nonprofit organizations that offer services to seniors in Westerville and then verifying their program information.

“It was important that the website is easy to use on a computer or a mobile device and that information was clear and concise,” Woltja said. “Knowing seniors are our audience, we used legible text and large graphics.”

Age-Friendly Westerville

Chelsea Nichols, a planner with the city’s Planning & Zoning Department, said staff have been working toward completing Westerville’s designation as an Age-Friendly Community, since the city launched the Age-Friendly Westerville initiative in 2018.

“Age-friendly communities promote healthy aging and improve the quality of life for older adults,” she said. “They are officially designated through the American Association of Retired Persons and the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities.”

To be a successful Age-Friendly Community, Nichols said, the city must provide planning, policies and services that enable Westerville residents to remain active and connected as they age.

She said the goal through the five-year designation process has been to establish an action plan that sets goals and strategies to ensure Westerville remains a great place for residents of all ages. 

Nichols said the Westerville Age-Friendly team’s proposed plan is is under review by AARP and will, she hopes, be approved soon.

“The action items in the plan reflect feedback received from residents at public workshops, stakeholder and community partner input and data collected from the Westerville Age-Friendly community survey,” she said. “The survey was sent out in 2019 to 1,200 randomly selected residents ages 55 and over.”

She said the Initiative has been about everyone working together to understand the community and its needs so that everyone can live as engaged and self-sufficient as possible. 

“While no two people will have the same experience, the conversations generated many key takeaways,” Nichols said. “One of those key takeaways was that residents and senior-service providers expressed interest in seeing a centralized hub of connection and communication being established.”

She said Leadership Westerville's creation of the new online directory of resources would be the first step toward implementing that specific action item.

“Our hope is for the directory to be a resource for older residents and also for it to become a tool for people of all ages,” she said.

Applications open

Lofy said the application period is open for interested community members to apply to take part in the Leadership Westerville class of 2022.

He said Leadership Westerville is a nine-month leadership program focused on developing well-informed, empowered community leaders.

“This is an exciting time to participate in Leadership Westerville,” Lofy said. “We are currently in our 20th year, involved in more community initiatives and alumni events than ever before, and there is no better time to get involved.” 

Those interested should apply online by going to the newly launched Leadership Westerville website before the Aug. 15 deadline. 

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla