Diana Ramos for the Arizona Daily Star
By 2034, for the first time in US history, older adults will outnumber children under the age of 18, according to the Census Bureau.
“If aging isn’t your problem, it will be,” says Elizabeth Cozzi, senior director of the Elder Alliance in Tucson, who is ready to help.
Some of the key issues older adults face are low incomes, food insecurity, the need for affordable housing and transportation, and a lack of family support, says Judy Clinco, co-founder and co-chair of the Local Alliance.
These problems have been exacerbated by the country’s growing elderly population. People are living longer, which means programs to improve the quality of life for older people are needed, she says.
The Elder Alliance is a long-standing local program that serves as a hub for groups serving older adults in Tucson. With the easing of the pandemic restrictions, it is trying to publicize its services.
The Alliance, a collaboration of nonprofits, corporations, government agencies, community partners and organizations working with older adults, was formed in 2010 and is overseen by the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona and the Pima Council on Aging.
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Cozzi said bringing the groups together under one roof has been a good way to harness energy, work together and tackle problems at scale. The Alliance has a membership of more than 130 individuals with affiliations with more than 70 organizations and active volunteers in the community.
Nationwide, 20% of all people are age 60 or older, and since at least 2017 the percentage has been the same in Tucson, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Tucson promotes an age-friendly community, and the Elder Alliance offers services that encourage active living, Cozzi said.
“The vision is that seniors in our community can thrive and enjoy a high quality of life and play an active role in shaping communities for all ages in Pima County,” she said.
Older adults have a desire to “age in place” and remain in their own communities and homes and live as independently as possible, rather than entering assisted living or other types of institutional care, Cozzi said.
Addressing issues in older communities is key to taking action, Cozzi said. When it first started, the alliance hired neighborhood contacts to go to specific geographic areas of Pima County to learn about the needs and concerns of older adult residents. Once these target problems were identified, action teams were formed.
Lucy Read, 79, is a retired nurse who has worked with the elderly for most of her nursing career and now works as a community liaison for Allianz.
“I have a passion for older adults and making their lives the best they can be, and that includes myself,” Read said.
Action teams are divided into several groups including age-appropriate/livable community; Council on Behavioral Health and Aging; direct caregivers; care partnership at the end of life; Housing; mature workforce; social engagement and more. The Alliance uses the teams to gather information from participants and take appropriate action.
According to Judy Clinco, Alliance co-founder and co-chair, some of the key issues facing older adults include affordable housing, low incomes, transportation, food insecurity and a lack of family support.
“We are advancing the concerns and issues of older adults in the Tucson community,” Clinco said. “We create a voice.”
Without a voice, problems become invisible, Clinico said.
In 2020, the Elder Alliance created a social connection network to help older adults who have been isolated stay connected online or in person during the pandemic. Through friendly calls or activities with safe social distancing, the Alliance offered various activities such as gatherings in parks, online tours of national parks and museums, and gardening and cooking classes.
While Alliance meetings have been held online for the past two years, the United Way Tucson office recently held an open house to welcome the public back to its campus and herald the return of in-person meetings for Elder Alliance. For the first time since mid-2020, staff were on site to provide resources and many of the participating groups were able to come and visit.
“Through the collective and work we do, we build the power of voice and are able to create meaningful change that positively impacts the lives of older adults in our community,” said Clinco.
The Elder Alliance invites, welcomes, and encourages people to contribute to the conversation about the quality of life for older adults in southern Arizona.
The alliance keeps seniors involved, Community Connector Read said. “It gives them something to take care of. It gives them other people in their lives.”
Diana Ramos is studying journalism at the University of Arizona and is training with the Arizona Daily Star.