By: Denny Cristales
People have often been asked, “Where will you be 10 years from now?”
A difficult question to answer for some, but does the response get any easier when the inquiry is instead directed at an entire city?
The Signal Hill Community Services Department did indeed ask that question when it hosted a needs-assessment community meeting on Wednesday at the Signal Hill Library to gather ideas of what recreational services residents feel they may need in the future.
The meeting featured mostly seniors 60 and up, indicated by a show of hands.
The Community Services Department has been gathering input from residents over the last few months for an assessment outline that will be presented to the Signal Hill City Council sometime in May or June, according to Aly Mancini, director of community services in Signal Hill, who was also present to hear local opinions.
Mancini said the event is mostly about presenting what’s important to residents to the Community Services Department and the city council.
“We’re not implementation– we’re concept,” she added.
City officials have also used telephone surveys to garner data from residents.
Richard A. Fisher, president of landscape firm Richard Fisher Associates (RFA), moderated the event on Wednesday with Sue Leto, recreation specialist with RFA. Fisher told residents that these types of meetings are important because needs change over time.
“What is happening in your life today may be different compared to eight or 10 years ago,” he said, also adding an example from his own life in which he and his wife always joked about their potential needs when they get older. The stair lift machine his wife now uses is an indication that the future is always rapidly approaching, he said.
The meeting closely followed a list of survey questions that attendees had available at the start of the event to gauge their needs.
The questions were generated based off general recreational services that residents may already value as important to the community. The survey inquired about how frequently residents attend City special events, such as summer concerts or a holiday tree-lighting ceremony, how locals get their information and what programs will personally be important to individuals five years from now.
Through a show of hands, those at the meeting indicated that, over the past year, they have visited Signal Hill facilities 31 to 40 times, and they mostly receive their information about the City from newsletters, websites and social media.
One resident spoke up and said there should be a focused priority on providing awareness to the community through access to new technology, because some individuals may not be informed of certain services, such as the Signal Hill Police Department’s use of the emergency-notification service Nixle, an application of which one person in the audience was not aware.
Another resident added that it may be difficult for the City to utilize all available forms of communication to promote services and events because every person has a personal preference on what platform they use to get information.
“Technology is increasing exponentially,” Leto said, while also acknowledging that enhanced communication may be the solution to informing more residents about services. “And it may be hard to keep up.”
Lyn Hutchison, a local resident who volunteers at the City’s community garden, expressed a desire for senior fitness classes.
Fisher agreed, adding how modern-day seniors are more physically active.
“Using the term of ‘active seniors’ is so applicable now,” he said. “[…] It’s important for focusing on staying well now instead of focusing on it when we are sick.”
There was also an expressed desire for a senior sector or area in the city where older residents can go to lounge and socialize, such as watch TV or movies, play cards, work on puzzles and participate in yoga.
Other seniors in the audience agreed. One resident jokingly mentioned that she is tired of always playing Bingo all the time.
Some residents also pointed out that seniors need recreational activities to continue socializing.
“A lot of seniors are alone, and that’s the one thing about seniors– being isolated,” said Pamela Hughes, a Signal Hill resident. “[…] We don’t have a social place for seniors.”
Fisher commended the suggestion. He also mentioned that Signal Hill is in a unique situation because it is surrounded by Long Beach, and residents sometimes use services that are available there. For instance, Long Beach is home to senior programming activities at the Expo Arts Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Leto went back to the topic of technology and said that the solution might just be as simple as telling people that some of the services they want are already available in Long Beach.
“Why duplicate service or reinvent the wheel?” she inquired. “That might not be the case, but the solution might be getting people there or getting them aware of it.”
One of the last few important items of discussion was the need for adult daycare services– facilities where people can take older parents or relatives for others to take care of them. Seniors may stay there for a few hours, and transportation is available, depending on the city.
Facilities that provide similar services are already available locally, such as the Courtyard Care Center.
At the end of the event, senior residents filled out a special survey for further input. Leto added that an exclusive teen-needs survey will also be distributed at a future date.
Mancini told the Signal Tribune after the meeting that the next step is to gather all the information over the course of the last few months, format it in a written document that summarizes all the suggestions and then present it to the Signal Hill Parks and Recreation Commission, who will then submit it to the city council.
Once the council approves the ideas, they will serve as the “marching orders” for the next five to 10 years.
“The most important thing about having these assessments is hearing from the people directly,” Mancini said. “You can tell by the involvement tonight, that largely focused on seniors […] and making sure that people are aware of services that are already out there and filling in the gaps.”
Fisher said in an interview after the event that there is a more constant line of dialogue in-person as opposed to on the telephone. He said the meeting proved to be valuable for the assessment document.
“That’s the value of having the synergy of a group of people in a room,” he said.