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What it takes to engAGE in Community

Deborah John

Deborah John looks at a community and sees its heart, its soul, its complex make up of people, places, services. She listens to the voices. She learns about needs. She empowers people. “It’s my passion,” says Deborah, OSU Extension facilitator of engAGE in Community and assistant professor of public health. “The goal is to create Clackamas County as an age-friendly place comprised of age-friendly communities,” she explains. “We want to assure that the people who have made this community their home are able to stay here as long as they wish.”

Deborah started last year by facilitating a county-wide forum to begin to identify the issues. More than 200 attended, using hand-held “clickers” to register their opinions about transportation, housing, social services, health care, education, open space, cultural opportunities, social isolation, and how community members receive information. Data gathering continues with community members actively involved in conducting face-to-face interviews, online and phone surveys, and community audits using Participatory Photo Mapping, a Geographic Information Systems photographic survey, to record features of the community that support or prohibit age-friendliness.

She uses a community-based participatory model, working with local residents to understand the factors that support or hinder opportunities to age successfully and actively. “We engage them from the beginning – they help us frame the questions, do the interviews – they are partners, not participants or ‘research subjects.’ They are looking at the issues that are relevant to them and finding solutions that they will use.” Once the data is gathered, the fun begins, according to Deborah. “We’ll have an engAGE Summit to share findings, then build coalitions of citizens and county, city, OSU, and Extension partners that can facilitate changes. The potential for community impact is huge – to make changes, right here, right now, on the ground.”