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How a small community became a big Age-Friendly Champion.

“Si Cocagne veut, Cocagne peut” (If Cocagne has a will, Cocagne finds a way). This unofficial slogan of the rural community of Cocagne perfectly captures the determination this small community displayed on their journey to becoming age-friendly.

Their journey began shortly after Cocagne became incorporated in 2014 when their newly minted council was approached about the Home First Program.

“We realized we didn’t know that much about the specific needs of seniors in our community, so we decided to form a seniors committee,” says Majella Dupuis, who was a councillor at the time.

What followed was an opportunity for Majella to attend a conference with Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard, research chair in population aging at the Université de Moncton and president of the Canadian Association of Gerontology. In talking with Dr. Dupuis-Blanchard, Majella was put in touch with the L’Association francophone des aînés du Nouveau-Brunswick (The Francophone Association of Seniors of New Brunswick) where she was introduced to MADA concept.

MADA stands for “Municipalité amie des aînés’ or ‘Age-Friendly Community’, a global age-friendly movement aimed at creating communities that enable seniors to age actively, enjoy good health, stay connected, and participate fully in their community. Majella was so intrigued, she asked for the MADA concept to be presented to their seniors committee, which then quickly transformed into a MADA committee.

“We tried to have a lot of variety on this committee,” notes Majella. ” That was one thing we noticed in the MADA approach – the more varied the participants, the better.”

Raised gardens, a collaboration between 6th grade students from École Blanche-Bourgeois school and the residents of Villa Côte d’Or in Cocagne

And the committee that was formed in 2015 was indeed diverse. Majella and the Deputy Mayor represented council, and representatives from Cocagne’s activity committee, Cocagne’s 250th celebration committee, recreation board, entrepreneurs, Blanche-Bourgeois school, youth, and Knights of Columbus rounded out the committee.

At the same time as the committee was coming together, a survey, done in collaboration with Université de Moncton, was being carried out to assess the needs of seniors and to gather some statistics.

“With Cocagne only being incorporated in 2014, statistics were a bit difficult to come by,” says Majella. The survey showed that the median age for Cocagne was around 49.5 compared to 43.7 for New Brunswick and 40.6 for the rest of Canada.

“That insight led to the question – what can we do with MADA?”

To arrive at their mandate, the committee looked at the steps in the established MADA approach. “When you look at it, at first it looks big. It’s a lot,” says Majella. “We’re a small community so the question became how do we compare ourselves to large cities when we just became incorporated and have limited resources.” To combat overwhelm, they developed kits with the MADA information most pertinent to their specific situation.

The survey, which had a huge 91% response rate, not only gave them a great sense of the age groups, but also held some surprises. They had presumed that isolation and transportation would show up as big issues and, while they were mentioned, other areas turned out to be a higher priority for seniors in their community.

With the survey results in hand, and the committee ready to get down to work on an action plan, they began to target their planning to address the needs noted in the survey while keeping in line with the MADA approach.

One area that ranked highly in the survey was active aging and physical activity. “So we started looking at what we had, what we could improve and what was needed to keep our seniors active,” says Majella. “We started with small steps.” Some of these steps included making sure trails were clearly identified with markers showing how long trails were in kilometers and installing more benches.

“This exercise lets you see what you have already in your community, what you can improve, what the big gaps are and to work on it,” says Majella. This approach also helped in other areas identified in the action plan such as affordable housing, community activities, and improved communication of information.

And one of their greatest resources turned out to be the seniors themselves. “We’ve been leveraging their strengths strategically,” notes Majella. “We approach those we know can make things happen in the community and are knowledgeable about specific target areas like, for example, gardens and community kitchens.” This community involvement keeps seniors engaged, leverages their strengths to benefit the community, and instils an increased sense of belonging.

Cocagne’s success has not gone unnoticed. Other smaller communities have been approaching them who are interested in doing something similar. And their participation in the MADA network has given the committee the chance to talk to other communities about approaches that have worked as well as what can be done better.

“We’re definitely going to grow our approach in the future and develop things further,” says Majella. “We’re going to keep going, according to our abilities and our resources.”

And Cocagne’s hard work has paid off. In 2017, they were the recipients of an Age-Friendly Recognition Award, proving it’s not size that matters – it’s passion!

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