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San Diego’s Commitment to Age-Friendly Communities: A Conversation with San Diego County and Media Arts Center

The San Diego Foundation, with the support of the Del Mar Healthcare Fund, is committed to growing the adoption of age-friendly action plans by local municipalities through the Age-Friendly Communities Program. This program addresses the needs of older adults — transportation, housing, outdoor spaces and buildings, community support and health services, respect and social inclusion, communication and information, and civic participation and employment — by promoting systems-level change in partnership with local governments, experts on aging and community advocates.

To date, The San Diego Foundation’s Age-Friendly Program has provided more than $3 million in strategic grants to improve the lives of older adults by partnering with nonprofit organizations and agencies that support age-friendly efforts.

Over the next few months, we will be producing a series of blog posts highlighting some of the great work our municipal partners are doing to make San Diego a more age-friendly community.

For our introductory post, we spoke with Christina Patch from the County of San Diego and Ethan Van Thillo with Media Arts Center San Diego to learn about the steps San Diego County is taking in its age-friendly commitment, and the new Age Friendly Film Festival.


What would you like people to know about your age-friendly San Diego initiative, and specifically, the newly launched Age Friendly Film Festival?

We are excited for the opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of age-friendly work. The sustainability and success of our regional age-friendly efforts depends on buy-in from decision makers and continued community member engagement. We look forward to partnering with age-friendly initiatives across the region to identify stories and help promote the Film Festival. We hope that the film content will be used to educate and inspire community members and other stakeholders and increase support of our regional age-friendly initiatives.

What aspect of the San Diego County – Media Arts Center Age Friendly Film Festival are you most proud of or excited about?

The Age-Friendly Film Festival aims to raise awareness of age-friendly initiatives across the region by engaging college student filmmakers to create short films highlighting the importance of age-friendly community work and how it can positively impact low-income and underserved older adults.  We are excited for the opportunity to share the accomplishments of local age-friendly initiatives and feature diverse voices and stories. We are also proud of the collaborations that have made this project possible.  The project is led by Media Arts Center, in partnership with AARP, The San Diego Foundation, and our regional age-friendly initiatives. 

How will films contribute to increased cultural awareness and dialogue regarding age-related issues?

Films can use storytelling and imagery to define what it means for a community to be “age-friendly,” and offer a vision for a future age-friendly San Diego region. We are excited to engage students in the project as filmmakers; as the future beneficiaries of our age-friendly efforts, students are key stakeholders and offer an important perspective on a community we can start to build today where older San Diegans feel safe and supported.

What efforts in association with your project relate to policy? Are there any age-friendly-related policies you think people should know about?

Creating and revising policies to be inclusive of older adults’ needs can be an effective means for implementing age-friendly change. For example, team members from the County’s age-friendly initiative, Age Well San Diego, worked with the County’s Housing and Community Development Services to draft policy language for the County’s Consolidated Plan, which governs affordable housing decisions and funding. The Team drafted language describing the specific and unique needs of older adults who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.  The new language was adopted in the 2020-2024 Consolidated Plan.

The California Master Plan for Aging has identified “equity and inclusion” as one of its major goals. Have you been able to integrate this concept into your projects?

Age-friendly communities are communities that are inclusive of people of all ages, abilities and socioeconomic and racial-ethnic backgrounds.  An example of a recent Age Well project that advanced equity and inclusion was a project to increase access to transit for Arabic-speaking elders in El Cajon.  During an Age Well San Diego team meeting last year, a community partner shared that many older Iraqi adults in El Cajon fear leaving their neighborhoods due to cultural and language barriers. Despite living less than 20 miles from the coastline, many never ventured outside El Cajon to see the beach or the city of San Diego. Our community partner expressed a need for resources, translated into Arabic, to help Arabic-speakers become more comfortable using public transit. Under the leadership of Circulate San Diego, and with support from the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (SDPACE) El Cajon, Elder Multicultural Access and Support Services (EMASS), MTS and the City of El Cajon, the group succeeded in winning an AARP Community Challenge Grant – one of only seven awardees in California! This grant funded the creation of an online library of transit resources in Arabic which had not previously existed.


Stay tuned to hear from more of our municipal partners as they work to increase access and opportunity for older San Diegans through the Age-Friendly Communities Program.

Learn more about The San Diego Foundation’s Age-Friendly Communities Program here.

For more about The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, click here.

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