By Christina Knoell
San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging
President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on March 11 to combat the public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and provide financial relief to Americans.
Of the $1.9 trillion package, $1.43 billion is earmarked for the Older Americans Act (OAA), including nutrition programs, supportive services for vaccination outreach, assisted transportation, in-home and community-based services and evidence-based programs, such as chronic disease prevention and the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.
To date, more than 51 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed and more than 800,000 lives have been taken in the United States due to COVID-19.
The San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging (SJBAAA) — Region 9, located in southwest Colorado and serving Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties, recently received an ARPA contract from the Colorado Department of Human Service’s State Unit on Aging in Denver. The national aging network involves 618 area agencies on aging (AAAs), about 20,000 service providers and 281 tribal organizations, with one Native Hawaiian organization, representing 400 tribes. Colorado has 16 AAAs and Region 9 covers two tribes, the Southern Ute tribe in Ignacio and the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in Towaoc.
In Region 9, Christina Knoell, the executive director of SJBAAA, has proposed working with a Pagosa Springs business on a growing dome project to benefit five area senior centers. The first two would be built to support the tribes in Ignacio and Towaoc. Another growing dome would be constructed in Dove Creek for the Pioneer Center. A fourth growing dome would be built in Silverton for its newly opened senior center, with the last one constructed in Pagosa Springs for Archuleta Seniors Inc. For this proposal, Knoell said she thought about how ARPA funds could help her own region by offering quality food and health benefits for older adults, as well as stimulate the local economy.
After first considering the area tribes, whose members were hit the hardest with COVID-19 cases, Knoell later discovered that the region’s network of nutrition program providers was interested in the domes. With access to a growing dome, the senior center meal sites could combat chronic disease management by incorporating healthy local food. The Ute Mountain Ute tribe has already accepted the proposed partnership, and Knoell plans to meet with the Tribal Council in Ignacio in the coming weeks.
Another important part of the growing dome proposal is to hire a master gardener to ensure that the soil and plants thrive in the domes. A full-time master gardener for the first five years would assist in maintaining a healthy plant ecology and help prevent disastrous white fly or aphid infestations.
The OAA and its programs became law in 1965 due to concerns over the lack of community social services for older adults, age 55 and older for tribal members and age 60 and older for nontribal members. Other priorities are given to older adults who have the greatest economic and social needs. The reauthorization of the Act and its funds occurs about every four to five years to add provisions that strengthen supportive service programs. The most recent reauthorization in 2020 intends to give more flexibility to the aging network for grandparent/grandchildren caregiving programs and to help remove barriers so that the aging network could work more effectively by adopting practical business skills.
Knoell will present the growing dome proposal to the SJBAAA governing board in early January. After that step is completed with approval, she will seek foundation and flatwork contractors to bid on the first phase of the first growing dome project in Towaoc. For more information, the public and interested contractors may contact her at Director@sjbaaa.org or call (970) 403-9744.