San Diego’s Commitment to Age-Friendly Communities: A Conversation with City of La Mesa

The San Diego Foundation created the Age-Friendly Communities Program to address the region’s shifting demography and build communities where adults can age in place, stay connected to their communities, and remain independent and meaningfully engaged throughout their later years.
The San Diego Foundation created the Age-Friendly Communities Program to address the region’s shifting demography and build communities where adults can age in place, stay connected to their communities, and remain independent and meaningfully engaged throughout their later years.

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 throughout the region, and to supporting services and initiatives to increase the quality of life of older adults in the community and ultimately all San Diegans.

To date, The San Diego Foundation’s Age-Friendly Communities Program has invested 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. We are excited to continue this series of blog posts highlighting the great work of our municipal partners to make the San Diego region a more age-friendly community.

The City of La Mesa was the third jurisdiction in the region to join the ranks of the AARP Livable Communities Network. Starting in 2019, they developed an Age-Friendly Action Plan titled “Liveable La Mesa”, which informs most of the City’s age-friendly work. For this post, we spoke with Misty Thompson, Executive Director of the La Mesa Park and Recreation Foundation, about their most recent age-friendly project, completed in partnership with the City of La Mesa, and funded by The San Diego Foundation.


What about this Age-Friendly program are you most proud of or excited for? 

We are so proud of the La Mesa Community Garden at MacArthur Park, built during the pandemic with the support of generous donations and grant funding! It is the first community garden for the City of La Mesa and La Mesa Park & Recreation Foundation, and was made possible by volunteers-turned-gardeners who now have their own beds and love what it has brought to the community.

The Chair of the Community Garden Committee shared that the goal of the garden is to bring together people from the community to promote health by spending time outdoors gardening and growing healthy food; encourage community through events and volunteer opportunities; have a place to share the food that’s grown; and provide education through classes and workshops for all ages. “We provide garden beds with soil, water, and a clubhouse for tool storage,” the Chair added.

“The thing I am most excited about is the community that is growing among the gardeners and the events and workshops that we will have moving forward.”

Before
After

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?

We have integrated equity and inclusion by ensuring the garden is ADA accessible, with adjustable ADA beds, offering scholarship opportunities for those in need, and keeping the annual fee to a very low $100 per year (with the option of a lower fee if necessary). The garden is open to all ages with many gardeners over 55, and it is located close to public transportation with a parking lot just outside.

If you have a role in the development of the County’s Age Well San Diego Action Plan, what are you excited about in relation to that project?  

The La Mesa Park & Recreation Foundation does not currently have an active role in the development of the County’s Action Plan, but continues to focus on priorities listed in the Livable La Mesa Action Plan – Building an Age-Friendly City for All Ages, including:

  • Outdoor Spaces
  • Social & Civic Participation
  • Health & Wellness

What else do you think people should know about your project and aging?

The La Mesa Park & Recreation Foundation is a separate nonprofit from the City but we have a wonderful partnership, and together we have made the Community Garden a new social outlet for all ages. Monthly workshops, chance meetings at the garden, and upcoming socials are creating an amazing Garden social group! Everyone is now harvesting from the garden and many are donating back to a local congregation which will distribute the food to the homeless.

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

Learn more about The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities.