Some stark realities emerge from statistics about aging in Virginia – and Franklin County in particular.
By 2030, the number of Virginians 65 or older will reach 1.8 million, with that age group composing the lion’s share of the population growth. Clearly, the complexion of the populace in the commonwealth is aging.
In Franklin County, the numbers are even more pronounced, with the median age in 2018 at 46, versus a statewide average of 38, which is just north of the national average of 37.8. This median age for Franklin ties our county with Floyd County to the west as the region’s second oldest, behind Henry County to the south.
Based on these statistics, it should come as no surprise that the Franklin County Board of Supervisors signed off last week on an update to its Aging Services Strategic Plan. This document, which dates from 2013, is designed to guide county officials as they plan to set aside resources to serve an aging population.
Created by the Aging Services Advisory Committee of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, the plan zeroes in on key elements of support and nurture for Franklin County seniors, including nutrition, wellness, quality of life activities and decentralized aging services programs for seniors.
This is a multi-pronged program whose appeal continues to broaden among the elderly. For example, attendance statistics at the county’s Essig Recreation Center for the past five years prove that. From 2014 to 2015, the center drew 8,288. In the most recent fiscal year, that number nearly doubled to 14,148. This year, the center attracted 7,000 a month in April and May, with nearly 6,000 attendees in June. Vans for the Essig Center also have enabled those lacking transportation of their own to access the center. The latest odometer readings show that between March and June this year, the vans drove more than 17,000 miles to serve elderly citizens seeking to access the center’s services.
Paul Chapman, county parks and recreation director, sums up the center’s offerings that point to the successes for the aging services program: It’s “everything from blood pressure screenings to lunch meetings, pickle ball, to yoga trips. We offer this huge array of programs I’m really proud of … but as this trend continues, we [see] so many needs are out there, and there is so much more that we can do.”
As a matter of fact, said Supervisor Ronnie Thompson, perhaps we are nearing the time to consider returning aging services to its own separate department apart from parks and recreation, though it’s done a superior job in breathing life into the Essig Center and attracting an expanding audience.
That’s probably a topic for further discussion by the board of supervisors in the coming years. But for now, not only the seniors but also the supervisors should give an institutional pat on the back of the Franklin County Parks and Recreation Department for a job well done.