Dubuque students working to make the city more friendly to seniors

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Dubuque city leaders are working with a group of teenagers to see how friendly the city is to older adults.

Tim Hitzler talks about data with his students at the Alternative Learning Center on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 (Allison Wong/KCRG-TV9)

The partnership started when Alternative Learning Center teacher Tim Hitzler asked city leaders for a project his students could work on.

Assistant City Manager Cori Burbach told Hitzler the city was hoping to research how friendly they are to senior citizens ages 65 and over, and Hitzler believed it was the perfect project for his students.

He said to tackle the project, they wanted to address two topics.

"One is to see how age friendly Dubuque is, and two, to provide tangible things the city can do to become more age friendly," Hitzler explained.

To do this, the class created a survey that more than 500 people filled out online and on paper.

Now, they're looking through the results.

"Most Dubuquers think the city is very age friendly but there's definitely things we can improve upon," Hitzler said.

They say one of their biggest recommendations is offering more ways for seniors to get involved.

"Them just sitting in their home, that's not healthy for them. That can lead to depression and loneliness, and we wanna get them outside and more active and engaging with others in the community," senior student Artayzia Watson said.

One of their ideas is to have these older adults in the schools.

"Something as simple as welcoming students as they come into the door, to actually tutoring them and helping them with homework," Hitzler said.

They also believe the city can make sure public spaces are age friendly.

This would include adding arm rests to benches, shelters at bus stops and more bike paths.

In addition to the survey, the students also researched other cities that are considered age friendly.

They found that intergenerational housing is popular in age friendly cities, and they'd like to see it tried in Dubuque.

This would mean that young and old people would live together and help each other out. Maybe the older adult provides daycare to the younger adult, and in return, the younger adult keeps up with house and yard maintenance.

Burbach says the city is interested in finding ways to be more age friendly, and they're looking forward to hearing the students findings.

She says improving the city for older citizens has benefits for all.

"Things that make a community that is beneficial for seniors, also make a community that's beneficial for folks with disabilities, or maybe even young parents with strollers. If you think about those types of populations, anything that’s good for seniors, it’s good for your whole community," Burbach said.

Both the students and the city enjoy the partnership they've created while learning about this issue.

Burbach said, "we have a bunch of teenagers giving us perspective on what an age friendly community looks like, and they're kind of thinking about it through the lens of, 'well, someday I'll be in that group.'"

Hitzler also says his students are learning how to make a difference in their community.

He said, "you don’t have to be a politician or a celebrity to cause change, you know you just have to put the time in and care about an issue and present it to the people that need to know."

Watson says this project has educated her on a topic she never thought about before, and that she can't wait to see some changes.

"This opened my eyes a lot. Dubuque can use some improvement on a few things," she said.