A researcher’s finding that some local officials or agencies were unaware of basic resources for adults 50 and older in Bartholomew County, plus misconceptions about Mill Race Center programming, is generating support to launch a consortium on needs and services for older residents.

During interviews conducted in June, national senior center expert Manoj Pardasani learned that not everyone was aware of services such as free transportation to and from many of Mill Race Center events and activities.

Pardasani said he also learned of misconceptions about the $7.8 million center, which opened in 2011 to serve healthy and active adults age 50 and older in Bartholomew County. For example, some residents told Pardasani that they thought Mill Race Center and its wide range of activities and programs was only for wealthy older people.

Those findings were announced Thursday during the Seek 2017 Conference by Pardasani, a national senior center expert and a professor dealing with aging issues, during his keynote speech to a crowd of about 100.

The healthy aging conference was at Mill Race Center, which has more than 2,000 members — some as young as 18, its leaders said.

Based Pardasani’s finding, Mill Race Center leaders hope to help launch a communitywide consortium next year on needs and services of seniors, the area’s largest population segment.

A grant from The Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County paid for Pardasani, a Fordham University professor who visited Columbus for three days in June, to gather information and data about Bartholomew County’s older population.

Pardasani is a faculty research scholar at the Ravazzin Center on Aging and associate professor at the Fordham University graduate school of social service in New York City.

He met with several local focus groups, ranging from city officials to law enforcement to nonprofit leaders, in order to assess how age-friendly the area is.

“One of the questions I asked was: Where are the gaps in services?” asked Pardasani during his presentation focusing on building an age-friendly community.

The professor suggested forming a consortium to help local leaders be more aware of needs for seniors.

Bob Pitman, retired executive director of Mill Race Center, has repeatedly said that Bartholomew County needs to adequately prepare for the huge growth in the 50-plus population.

For instance, national U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that the 65-plus age group will nearly double by 2040.

Pardasani took pains to be especially clear on one matter in particular.

“Tolerance (of a group) is not what it means to be an age-friendly community,” Pardasani said.

An age-friendly city or county actually is one in which older people, for example, feel valued and affirmed, according to the professor.

Pardasani said that’s important in Columbus because his research found that many people move to the southern Indiana city to retire — and many young workers come to Bartholomew County, then move their aging parents to the area to be nearby.

“We definitely would be interested in taking a look and trying to see how we can be helpful (to an effort),” said Tracy Souza, president and chief executive officer of The Heritage Fund.

Dan Mustard, Mill Race Center’s executive director, mentioned before the opening of the conference that cities such as Columbus hustled to build new schools in the 1950s and 1960s and beyond to meet needs of a Baby Boom generation.

“We (now) need to focus our resources and services (for seniors) in the same way that we did when the (Baby) Boomers were younger,” Mustard said.

He added that Mill Race Center added 140 new members in 2015, nearly 300 new members in 2016, and is on target to surpass that number before this year ends.

“We are close to our capacity — just look at our (often-full) parking lot — in a building that is only six years old, but we do not receive public funding for programs or services,” Mustard said.

Seek 2017 Expo

What: Free expo with about 35 vendors featuring products and services aimed at the 50-plus population.

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today.

Where: Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St. in Columbus.

Information: Mill Race Center at 812-376-9241 or millracecenter.org.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.