San Diego’s Commitment to Age-Friendly Communities: A Conversation with City of San Diego and SDSU Social Policy Institute

San Diego's Commitment to Age-Friendly Communities: A Conversation with City of San Diego and SDSU Social Policy Institute
The San Diego Foundation is committed to growing the adoption of age-friendly action plans by local municipalities throughout the region.

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. Over the next few months, we will share a 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 San Diego became part of the AARP Livable Communities Network in 2019 and is currently in the process of developing an Age Friendly Action Plan. For this post, we spoke with Kristi Fenick, District Manager of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, Therapeutic Recreation and AgeWell Services. We also spoke with Lori Clarke, Chief Program Officer at San Diego State University (SDSU) Social Policy Institute, and Brenda Bothel-Hammond, Aging Specialist at SDSU Social Policy Institute, about their technology training program, which is a collaboration between the City of San Diego and SDSU, as well as the region-wide Age Friendly San Diego initiative.


What about the Age Friendly San Diego initiative are you most proud of or excited for? 

We are proud of many elements of this Age Friendly San Diego initiative, but particularly the way the program was able to pivot during COVID-19. The AgeWell Social Call Technology Training program provided active outreach to seniors and follow up with concrete needs and social connections. Age Friendly San Diego continued to work in a virtual environment and did not lose momentum, and a survey was sent out to determine the actual needs of seniors by sector during the pandemic.

In response to the identified technology needs, the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation AgeWell team partnered with San Diego Oasis, a local nonprofit, to distribute tablets and secured internet connection for low-income adults, offer virtual programming and developed a Technology Training Program. The staff were recruited and trained to provide hour-long personal trainings for older adults to support both tablet and smart phone applications. This resulted in individuals’ increased comfort with accessing technology and connecting with their social networks, decreasing isolation and loneliness.

The California Master Plan for Aging (https://mpa.aging.ca.gov) has identified “equity and inclusion” as one of its major goals. Have you been able to integrate this concept into your projects?

The Age Friendly San Diego community engagement process included very broad outreach; the community survey was offered in five languages and specialized marketing was developed to engage and reflect the target audience. The team focused on oversampling with Spanish speaking and housing insecure populations, and the Age Friendly San Diego Action Plan includes the development of respect and inclusion actions informed by older adult participants.

AgeWell Services now offers more support and programs in Spanish including the Social Call Technology Training and other virtual programs to ensure South County residents receive information about services available to them i.e., Meal Pantry Programs from Serving Seniors. There is also a database of Spanish-speaking patrons to send translated materials to via snail mail and/or email. The California Master Plan for Aging goal connects very closely with the “Respect & Inclusion” domain of livability and aligns with the City of San Diego’s Parks Master Plan guiding principal; “To provide opportunities for everyone, all park planning efforts should promote a parks system that is relevant, accessible, iconic, sustainable, and equitable.”

If you have a role in the development of the San Diego Action Plan for Aging, what are you excited about in relation to that project?  

AgeWell Services is excited about working with numerous Recreation Centers to increase offerings of services and programs geared specifically towards older adults citywide. To help facilitate this, the team is providing Parks and Recreation staff with a comprehensive tool kit which will include important information regarding how to better work with older adults, and community organizations that staff can partner with to offer free programs, services, etc.

The Age Friendly San Diego Action Plan will be available late this summer for public review and comment.

Is there anything you’re doing or aware of in association with your project that relates to policy? Is there any age friendly related policy you think people should know about?  

San Diego is in a housing crisis. In addition to limited affordable housing stock and long waits to access, we are hearing that affordable housing is often not livable.

One other major theme we heard from older adults was concerns about their “safety.” Safety walking in their neighborhoods after dark, riding public transit, in parks, driving, walking, biking, etc. Our policy scan includes quite a few policies regarding public safety. Unfortunately, these policies are not resulting in older adults feeling safe. Additional energy and resources need to be dedicated to public safety and confidence.

Feel free to share anything else that you think people should know about as relates to your project and aging.

Our goal is to make San Diego a great place for all ages. While older adults are the fastest growing segment of our population, it truly takes an entire community looking out for one another to create a livable community. If any other organization would like to join this movement, please reach out! Contact Kristi Fenick, District Manager, at KFenick@sandiego.gov.

For more information on The San Diego Foundation’s Age Friendly Communities Program, please go here.

And to learn more about The AARP Network of Age Friendly Communities, please go here.