FL Designated As Naturally Occurring Retirement Community

It’s no secret that Community Connections at Findley Lake has helped many elderly residents to remain living in the area, but now, through a new state program, it will take a huge leap forward in its mission.

At a special community gathering at the gazebo, CCFL board of directors chairperson Dr L.J. Baylis announced that Findley Lake has been designated by New York State as a NORC (Naturally Occuring Retirment Community). As such, it will receive a grant of $99,999 per year for five years, contingent upon a local matching grant of $25,000.

Weeks before the announcement, area residents had received invitation to attend the gathering to hear the news. The purpose for the event was not revealed however. “I have discovered that the best way to get a lot of people to show up is to have a secret,” Baylis said with a laugh in her introductory remarks.

Baylis explained that in 2017, the American Association of Retired Persons and the World Health Organization designated New York as the first age-friendly state in the country.

“Because of this, every town in New York can apply for a NORC designation,” Baylis said. “So we took on the monumental task of filling out the application.”

Baylis noted that the task was indeed “monumental” because the application was 160 pages long. “We are glad we took it on, however, because on April 29, we received a letter from Albany awarding us the NORC designation,” she said. “This opens up a whole other avenue for us.”

Baylis recalled the moment six and one-half years ago when she, Dr. Maureen Garone, and Judy Hunt founded Community Connections. “We wanted to give back to the community,” she said. We realized that many of our elderly have to move away because there is no grocery, no mail delivery, no pharmacy….Six and one-half years later, we find ourselves involved in things such as insurance and health and wellness programs.”

Baylis also gave credit to Community Connections secretary/treasurer Christy Ball for the success of the organization. “Most important to our growth is Christy. She is our administrator and that friendly voiced you hear when you call us on the phone.”

Greg Olsen, director of the NYS Office for Aging told those in attendance that this was the first time a rural community has been able to receive the NORC designation. The NORC program began in 1994, but was restricted to urban areas, he said.

The state coined the term to refer to small communities or apartment complexes whose population was not intended to be elderly, but which which naturally grew older as the years passed. Programs of support services were developed for people in these communities to help them maintain their independence and improve their quality of life.

In 2017, the NORC guidelines were re-written to include rural areas, after the state received the designation from WHO as an age-friendly state. “We are the first age friendly state in the county, and because of geography, we became the largest age friendly area in the world,” he said.

Out of 11 rural applicants, Findley Lake was one of only three chosen to become a NORC community, Olsen said. “This is the first time we have been able to do this in a rural community.”

Chautauqua County Executive George Borello was also on hand for the event. “This is an amazing day,” he said. “To think of all the places that have been considered for this grant & Findley Lake has been chosen.”

Borello described Findley Lake, and especially Community Connections, as a pro-active community. The difference is that I have people sit in my office and say: ‘What can you do for us.’ Findley Lake comes to me and says” ‘This is what we are doing. What can you do to help us?'”

Borello said he hopes Findley Lake can become a model throughout the county, and even the nation, for its approach to helping the elderly remain in the community. “This is a wonderful place to live, and thanks to this grant, it will continue to be so,” he said.

Mina Town Supervisor Rebecca Brumagin said she was overwhelmed by the grant and the NORC designation. “It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around the fact that, what started as an initiative that began with the World Health Organizaton and New York State will take place here,” she said.

Brumagin commended Community Connections for its work during its six and one-half year existence. “One thing we all have in common is that we live miles away from the nearest hospital, bank or grocery store,” she said. “CCFL is positioned to develop an effective plan to address these needs.”

In particular, Brumagin extolled the work of the three founding members of Community Connections. “I say thank you to Judy, Maureen and Lin,” she said. “Those who live in Mina are beneficiaries of these three women who have changed our community.”