In 2019, two residents of Swampscott, Massachusetts, contracted with UMass Boston gerontologist Caitlin Coyle, PhD, to guide their work in shaping age-friendly initiatives for their town. Coyle, an adjunct assistant professor and fellow of the Gerontology Institute, was struck by the grassroots nature of the residents’ work. She conducted a survey, focus groups, interviews, and more to assess the town’s needs for better supporting its aging population, then worked with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to compile the findings into a report. The two residents, meanwhile, grew into a committee of 30 or so.
Fast forward three years and Swampscott has joined the national AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. Heidi Whear, one of the residents who first contacted Coyle, now serves as director of the Swampscott Senior Center. And in January 2022, the Massachusetts Councils on Aging awarded a $7,800 grant to Swampscott’s Council on Aging to carry out some of their age-friendly initiatives.
“It’s a nice demonstration that the research we do doesn’t sit on shelves,” says Coyle.
The new grant will expand the Swampscott Council on Aging’s marketing and outreach efforts, including the development of a user-friendly website for the senior center and the Swampscott for All Ages Committee.
Coyle isn’t surprised that marketing is the focus of the Council on Aging grant. “What we often learn as we talk with residents is that most people have no idea what happens at their local senior center,” she says. “People often think it’s just a place where you can go for a meal and bingo. They don’t know that the center’s staff can help people sign up for Medicare, say, and provide other important services and programs.”
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker lives in Swampscott. In 2018 Baker announced that the state had joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, the second state in the U.S. to do so. “Many of our older adults have the time, energy and talent available to start a second or third career, volunteer in their community, become a mentor or pursue an unfulfilled passion,” Baker wrote in a letter to Massachusetts AARP. “By enrolling in the network of Age-Friendly States, Massachusetts embraces the opportunity to promote and celebrate aging.” The continuing progress of the Age Friendly Swampscott initiative is one of many examples of how cities and towns across the Commonwealth are taking action in response to population aging—including in the Governor’s own backyard.