United Way of Western Connecticut Receives Grants to Assist Older Adults from PCLB Foundation and the Tufts Health Plan Foundation
DANBURY, Conn. (December 11, 2019) — A new program to improve food access for Danbury’s older people will be launched over the coming year, with support from the Peter & Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation and the Tufts Health Plan Foundation.
“We’re so grateful for the support of these two funders,” said Marie Miszewski, co-chair of Danbury’s Age Well Community Council and President/CEO of the Regional YMCA. “This funding will make our vision of better access to healthy food for older adults come closer to reality.”
This innovative program, called Age Well Ambassadors, will train a cohort of older people on how to access food and other resources, and then arm them with the tools they need to share that information with their peers. By using the power of “word of mouth,” the program aims to inform Danbury’s older people about community services and supports to put healthy food on their plates.
The Age Well Ambassador program is the culmination of many months of outreach and information gathering by Danbury’s Age Well Community Council and United Way of Western Connecticut. In 2017, United Way conducted a series of Community Conversations and surveys, reaching more than 200 area older adults. One of the takeaways from that work was that people from all walks of life prefer to get information from trusted family, friends, and neighbors. Then, at an Age Well Community Council Summit held in 2018, food security rose to the top as an issue of concern. Danbury Hospital reported at that summit that 45% of the older people it screened for health-related social needs indicated that they were food insecure.
As a result, the Council held a second summit in June of 2019, called “Come to the Table,” with food security as the focus. Attendees heard compelling personal testimony from older area residents about their own struggles to access food―and the stigma associated with not being able to purchase food.
“The Ambassador Program was selected as a priority action after being inspired by a Danbury veteran who shared his own experience struggling with food insecurity,” said Cara Mitchell. “He described the experience of helping a friend navigate a food pantry for the first time. We thought it would be great to have more people like him in our community.”
Collectively, the group decided to take action to demystify and destigmatize the process of food access for Danbury’s older people, and the Age Well Ambassadors program began to take shape. The Council summarizes its work in this area moving forward with the tagline “Eat Well, Age Well.”
Initially, the program will recruit 20 Ambassadors, drawing people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds and reflecting the multiculturalism of the Danbury area. The work of the Ambassadors will be supplemented by promotional activities, events, videos, and social media. Information will be provided in multiple languages. Ambassadors will share information on how to access available food resources and will also connect them to the Age Well CT website, which is located at agewellct.org.
For the City of Danbury, the population age 65 and older is projected to increase 52% by 2025. This program will focus on the low-income residents of Central Danbury. The foreign-born population (33% as of 2017) grew by 169% from 1990 to 2014, concentrated in Danbury’s center. The median income in Central Danbury is $51,400, 36% lower than other neighborhoods. Over 25% of Danbury's current SNAP participants are older adults.
Age Well Ambassadors is one of 40 grantees across New England to receive a Tufts Health Plan Foundation Momentum mini-grant and one of only 10 projects in Connecticut to be funded.
“These mini-grants make it possible for organizations to build on community insights,” said Nora Moreno Cargie, president of Tufts Health Plan Foundation and vice president of corporate citizenship at Tufts Health Plan. “We know the best ideas come from cities and towns as they reimagine aging.”
Tufts Health Plan Foundation began funding in Connecticut this year. In 2018, Tufts Health Plan, in partnership with Hartford Healthcare, launched CarePartners of Connecticut, which offers Medicare Advantage plans to Connecticut seniors. CarePartners leverages the decades of experience of both organizations in providing high quality care and award-winning health care coverage.
For more information about the Age Well Ambassadors program, contact Cara Mitchell at United Way of Western Connecticut at 203-883-0879 or firstname.lastname@example.org
At the June 2019 Age Well Summit, held at the Ethan Allen in Danbury, attendees learned of the challenges of obtaining healthy food faced by many older people in Danbury.