EAST CHICAGO | Senior citizens from East Chicago shared their thoughts Thursday on how the community could better serve residents as they age.
More than 60 senior citizens attended an event at the East Chicago police station gymnasium hosted by Northwest Indiana Community Action, the city and Indiana AARP.
A community assessment conducted by the National Research Center showed 93 percent of older East Chicago adults surveyed planned to live out their lives in the same city, but only 11 percent believed the community was a good place to grow old.
Gary Olunde, president and CEO of Northwest Indiana Community Action, encouraged those attending the forum to share their thoughts on how to improve the community for the aging population.
Instead of filling out a survey on paper, event organizers encouraged an open forum, allowing attendees a chance to talk about issues.
"This is a great way to determine the agenda and what their needs are," Olunde said. "We only deal with and talk about the issues brought up today, nothing else."
The gamut of ideas ranged from focused problems such as snow removal to the big-picture issues such as encouraging unity throughout the community.
Some wanted increased access to exercise machines, while others expressed interest in technology classes.
Many agreed that increased security, both within a housing complex and throughout the city, was important.
Maxine Cole said she wanted to learn about social media sites to stay connected with her family. She appreciated the format of the open forum, and hoped there would be enough momentum from the event to see real change.
"It's a springboard," Cole said. "I think the suggestions offered were very pertinent. But there has to be follow-through."
Clifford Ramer said he was concerned about general respect for all residents. With a history of corrupt politicians in the city's past, he hopes community leadership will focus on what's right for everyone.
"Our leaders have to take the right initiative," Ramer said. "I think we have a chance to make this city great."
Each issue identified was taken up in a discussion group. Participants then gathered to talk about ways to address the issue.
It's the first time Northwest Indiana Community Action tried an open forum to gather information. The organization plans to have more, smaller forums throughout the year.
Juanita Montantes, of East Chicago, said she preferred hearing others' ideas instead of answering standard survey questions.
"You could do a written survey," Montantes said, "but it's not the same as a person-to-person discussion. You can get other people's viewpoints and share your own this way."
The event also featured panel discussions on finding services, protection from scams and modifying a home.