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Largo, Florida:


Seniors and Youth Working Towards a Healthier Community

History and Background: Urban Trails

In 2000, Largo began updating its urban trails by having city staff link trails to points of interest in the city. Using the trails, the city initially intended to tailor recreation programs to specific age and population groups. Then, after conducting several community focus groups, the Largo Recreation, Parks, and Arts Department chose a new direction. Instead of focusing on age groups such as seniors, Largo decided to adopt an inter-generational approach.

map of Florida, click for long description

Using a framework of defined age groups, Largo designed a program combining senior activities with youth initiatives that focused on learning because retirees have skills to share with youth.24 Program planners believe this approach will increase walking and biking among all residents through the creation of urban trails, while increasing interaction between generations. Planners also hope the multi-generational approach will increase trail use and enhance teens’ sense of being valued by the community.


 

Program Description: Uniting Generations and Encouraging Older Adults to Be Active

Urban trails construction started in summer 2002. The Largo Recreation, Parks, and Arts Department recruited teens from a youth summer job program to help them plot, build, and maintain the trails.25 In total, 25-30 urban trails will link services, parks, and recreation facilities and areas. Trails will range from those a few miles long around assisted living facilities to more complex trail systems that integrate walking, biking, and public transportation. City buses – all equipped with bike racks – will connect with trails so people can navigate the city without the use of a car.

seniors with bikesTo promote trail use, the program planners created a pocket guide to trails with maps, information about trail distance and difficulty, and descriptions of points of interest (e.g., stores, parks). The pocket guide will be sold for a nominal fee to cover printing expenses.

Prior to beginning trail work, the youth underwent training. They traveled city blocks using wheelchairs and walkers; some were blindfolded to experience navigating with visual limitations. They also timed street signals and observed sidewalk conditions. Besides learning more about seniors, youth learned first-hand about the links between mobility and the physical environment. Following this training, the teens began plotting and planning trails. They used pedometers, journals, compasses, and digital cameras to document trail development and map rest stops, bathrooms, and water fountains.

In turn, Largo Recreation, Parks, and Arts Department staff and senior volunteers mentored teens and assisted them in honing job skills. Teens received mock job descriptions, completed resumes, and participated in simulated panel interviews.

This interaction will not only increase the social and professional abilities of the adolescents, but also allow teens to access knowledge from adults in a positive environment. Likewise, the exchange will allow seniors to interact with younger people in a safe setting to refute the idea that teens are threatening or dangerous. The personal connection to the trail planners may further entice seniors to use the trails.

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Walking and Biking Promotion

To ensure success, the Largo Recreation, Parks, and Arts Department is developing relationships with several local businesses and community groups. The Largo Community Center, a public facility, will serve as a meeting place, training center, and the site of the first walking trail. In addition, an assisted living facility has volunteered its “in-house” fitness trainer to provide education, training, and guidance for senior walking and biking.

Under the guidance of fitness professionals, seniors will be able to take part in 30-minute walks each weekday in the community center auditorium, a comfortable and air-conditioned setting. Staff will assign each participant a record card and ask them to note daily walking distances and times. Medical staff from a local hospital senior care facility will monitor walkers’ pulse rates and blood pressure on a monthly basis. These data will document walkers’ progress over time.

As participants’ physical conditioning improves, and as the urban trails pocket guide is sold, staff will encourage walkers to use the pocket guide for planning outdoor trail walks. Participants will continue using their record cards, and hospital staff will monitor walkers monthly.


Partners: Businesses and Non-Profits

  • Assisted living facilities and local hospitals

  • Largo Chamber of Commerce is a key partner and has been enthusiastic about the program for the value it could bring to future Largo employers – and increase businesses’ bottom line. The trails will lead residents to small businesses in Largo, which will be numbered on the trail maps for easy identification. The stops at small businesses should demonstrate that exercise and errands can be combined and provide periodic respite from Largo’s heat and humidity.

  • Main Street, USA: A non-profit organization dedicated to helping small communities redevelop their downtown districts.

  • Largo Rotary Club


The Bottom Line: Funding

A local non-profit foundation, The Palms of Largo Intergenerational Foundation, whose mission is to promote intergenerational activities, funded the program. The program also receives funding from the National Institutes of Health’s Hearts ‘N Parks program.


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Future Plans

The program began in summer 2002 and future growth will be determined later.


Evaluation

A previous assessment in Largo indicated the city was not as accessible for seniors as it should be. Based on these women walkingfindings, the city proposed changes to its physical environment. Future evaluation could be based on this same model.

The city will evaluate changes in the physical conditioning of seniors participating in the fitness program (outcome evaluation). Feedback solicited from participants will also help guide program growth and development (process evaluation).


Biggest Success: A Promising Beginning

Although the program began during summer 2002, program planners report that the switch from an age-specific approach to an inter-generational one has improved planning. Community members, including senior volunteers, business owners, and teens, have embraced the idea, as evidenced by their commitment to the program.


Biggest Obstacle: Limited Resources

The biggest obstacle facing the program is limited funding and personnel. Like other communities, Largo has sufficient resources for planning and execution but could enhance and more extensively evaluate the program if additional resources were available.

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