Fairfield County is graying. According to the 2021 US Census Bureau, the percentage of the population aged 65 and over will climb to more than 23% by 2060 in the towns of Ridgefield and Wilton. It is not surprising then, that services for seniors are an important focus of local administrations in the 068 area.
The Commission on Aging, a town-appointed body in Ridgefield, identifies the needs of seniors living in Ridgefield and coordinates services that further their well-being. In collaboration with the Department of Social Services, the Commission on Aging publishes the Directory of Senior Services – a 60-page plus resource that declares itself “a document about us and for us, the seniors of Ridgefield, our families, and our friends.” The list of senior services in the Directory is comprehensive, ranging from medical and health services to legal and financial assistance. The Directory also includes a vetted list of contractors and tradepersons, as well as volunteer opportunities.
Transportation is an urgent need for the elderly and is key to maintaining their quality of life: to keep appointments, visit friends and family, go shopping, or just to enjoy an outing. “Rides for Ridgefield” and “Wilton Dial a Ride” are two services that provide affordable access to transportation for town residents 60 and older and for residents with mobility disabilities. “Rides for Ridgefield” is staffed entirely by volunteers who accept ride requests Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “Wilton Dial a Ride” is run by the town’s Department of Social Services and provides van transportation for Wilton seniors and adults with disabilities to destinations within town. Reservations must be made no later than 4:00 pm the day before the requested ride. FISH (Friends in Service Here) is another free transportation option available to 068 seniors for their medical and therapy appointments.
Of all the organizations devoted to senior care in 068, perhaps no institution illustrates a progressive vision of how to engage seniors, serve their recreational, educational, and emotional needs with empathy, creative programming, and care in a state-of-the-art facility than Founders Hall in Ridgefield. “We embrace the elderly,” says Grace Weber, Executive Director of Founder’s Hall. That spirit of welcoming warmth is evident in the happy buzz of activity at their facility. Its beautiful art filled lobby feels more like an upscale social club and upends any stereotypes of facilities for seniors. With over 3,300 members ranging in age from 52 – 103, Founders Hall provides the social connection and camaraderie critical to emotional health and wellness. Activities on any given day range from fitness classes in tai chi, aerobics, yoga, and aquatic exercise to educational classes including history, film, literature, art and architecture, as well as global issues.
Founder’s Hall also arranges field trips for their members. Recent trips include the Whitney Museum in New York City and Goodspeed Opera House in Haddam, CT. As a donor-supported not-for-profit organization, Founder’s Hall relies on funding from generous patrons and town citizens for upkeep and running. It is truly one of Ridgefield’s great resources, and an organization that facilitates many other key services for seniors in town.
Unlike Founder’s Hall, the Senior Center in Wilton is run by the town’s department of Social Services. Located in the Comstock Community center, the Senior Center is very much at the heart of the social services provided by the town. “The seniors in town are a huge part of what makes Wilton special. We want to make them feel valued and connected,” says Sarah Heath, Director of Social Services. Heath sees the Senior Center as “one part of the services available to residents in Wilton, including the YMCA, the library, and continuing education. The mission of the Wilton Senior Center is to provide Wilton’s older citizens with stimulating and creative opportunities for their social, physical, emotional, and intellectual enrichment in a facility dedicated to them. Like Founders Hall, it too provides amazing programming catering to the whole individual. However, here the classes and programs are free for residents. As more and more senior citizens choose to stay home, Wilton Social Services also partners with “Stay at Home,” an organization that provides supportive services and resources to its members in their efforts to remain independent, active, and connected.
In a society that privileges youth and where ageism is rampant, there is an urgent need to shift the national conversation on aging and the elderly. We need to change the perspective on this demographic as an invaluable and under-appreciated resource. Thankfully, programs such as the ones mentioned above are helping our aging population live their best lives.