Peters stops at Ishpeming Senior Center during annual motorcycle tour

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, speaks to local seniors and elected officials at the Ishpeming Senior Center Wednesday. Peters stopped at the senior center during his fourth annual motorcycle tour of Michigan to discuss his legislative efforts on the proposed Age-Friendly Communities Act, answer questions on a variety of topics and tour the senior center. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

ISHPEMING — Many people want to stay at home safely and independently as they age, but there can be barriers to aging in place, especially in rural areas.

For this reason, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, made a stop at the Ishpeming Senior Center along Pine Street in Ishpeming Wednesday morning during his fourth annual motorcycle tour across Michigan.

He discussed his legislative efforts to help seniors age in place and learned more about the challenges and successes the Ishpeming Senior Center has faced while helping local seniors do so.

“Many seniors don’t want to move out, even though they need additional services — whether it’s medical services, transportation services, nutrition services — and sometimes it can be very difficult to coordinate all of that,” Peters said.

The Age-Friendly Communities Act, which Peters introduced in May with U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, aims to promote healthy aging and age-friendly communities that allow seniors to age in place, he said.

This is right in line with what the Ishpeming Senior Center strives to offer, said Elyse Bertucci, director of the center.

“Our focus of services here is keeping seniors living safely and independently in their own homes; that’s our reason for being,” she said.

The bill would amend the Older Americans Act and “direct federal agencies to set national standards for healthy aging and creating age-friendly communities,” information about the legislation states. It would create a public-private coordinating body that would establish recommendations and “best practices” for implementing the standards developed, Peters said.

It’s important to stop in communities such as Ishpeming and see what the challenges, successes and goals are, Peters said, as this can allow legislators to “find out what’s working, what’s not working” and then put together a “template for communities like Ishpeming and Marquette to look at what they are providing.”

Learning more about what’s happening in individual communities across the nation and setting benchmarks, standards and best practices based on this information is key, he said, as “there really hasn’t been a comprehensive study of how we deal with this across the country.”

“And I find that the best laboratories for good ideas are in local communities,” Peters said. “That’s why I’m here seeing firsthand what’s happening here in Ishpeming and the greater Marquette area so I can take that back to Washington D.C.”

Some goals that have been identified are increasing access to telehealth services and transportation, which would both help seniors access medical care more easily, he said.

Another goal, Peters said, is increasing seniors’ awareness of the services available to them through area senior centers and other agencies.

Beyond discussing the bill, Peters also took general questions about his work in the U.S. Senate from local seniors and elected officials during the stop.

Following this, Peters took a tour of the senior center and learned more about plans to build the new Ishpeming Multi-Purpose Senior Center, a 7,800-square-foot building that would be constructed on a 2-acre site at 121 Greenwood St.

“It will be a wonderful thing — not just for the city of Ishpeming — but for the whole west end (of Marquette County), and especially for the seniors,” Bertucci said in a phone interview after the tour.

The new facility is estimated to cost over $2 million.

Officials had initially considered renovating the Pine Street building with funds willed to the center by a donor, but found out the cost of renovations would exceed the building’s value, she said.

Due to this, Bertucci and officials have been working over the past four years to develop a plan and funding for a new center, which would address space constraints while offering improved energy efficiency, accessibility, comfort and parking, she said.

The city of Ishpeming is currently in the process of applying for a Michigan Economic Development Corp. Community Development Block Grant in the amount of around $2.17 million to help fund the new center, she said, noting a public hearing was scheduled to be held for the grant application Wednesday night. The grant, if approved, will require a 10% match. Bertucci said the plan is to use fundraising to help cover the cost of the match.

Overall, Bertucci feels legislation like the Age-Friendly Communities Act can help support seniors by ensuring their communities and senior centers have the appropriate tools and resources to help them age in place.

“We are excited about his Age-Friendly (Communities) Act because it will serve to help us provide services and activities to our seniors in our community,” she said.

Peters, who has been described as “an avid motorcycle rider,” is also making stops in Metro Detroit, Flint, Escanaba, Traverse City, Grand Rapids and Grand Ledge throughout a five-day period to discuss his legislative efforts on behalf of Michigan in the U.S. Senate.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.