For Catawba County's population, going gray isn't a gradual transition — it's becoming a booming shift.
In the past 10 years, the county's population of "Baby Boomers" and those in older generations is growing wildly. Census 2010 data revealed the population of residents ages 55-59 increased almost 36 percent in 10 years.
For those in the 60-64 age bracket the population growth during the past decade has been 62 percent. In the population between ages 65 and 74, the growth has been 28 percent.
"When we have got an aging population like this, this is an economic boom we have got to take advantage of," Catawba County Chamber of Commerce President Danny Hearn said, adding that the challenge isn't solely related to finding ways to deliver services to this growing population. "Fifty percent of the aging population has access to the Internet and understands the resources that are out there, and they can find them. But we have got 50 percent of that population that don't (have awareness of resources), and we have got to figure out how to reach them."
With the goal of reaching those masses in mind, a collective of businesses and agencies that serve the county's senior populations is uniting to form a new organization: SIR, or Senior Information Resources. The group's first formal "networking" meeting was held at the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce offices Wednesday, and it drew a near-capacity crowd.
"It is no surprise that this many people showed up," Hearn said to an audience filled with representatives from the county's hospitals, retirement communities, nursing and rehab centers, home health agencies and more. "
Led by Susan Vincent, owner of Home Instead Senior Care, SIR is dedicated not just to benefitting agencies that serve senior citizens, but moreso to the people who make up the portion of Catawba County's population that is growing faster than any other.
"SIR is not about us," she said. "It is not about any of us. It is about the people we are going to help. This collaboration is very important in order for us to be successful."
A primary focus for SIR, Vincent said, is to focus on education, resources and programs, not just for senior citizens, but also for their caregivers and families. That focus is directly in line with an "Aging Plan" recently produced after about two years of work by the Catawba County Aging Coalition.
"The plan contained eight different sections where we need to work in the community, and under each section it lists the work to be done," said Aging Coalition Co-Chair Mark Bumgarner. "SIR is a perfect fit for our first category: accessing information. SIR helps us with accessing information as it takes ownership, and working with community partners, it helps get the word out about what is available — what do we have that can help you and your family."
"One of the biggest barriers to services is a lack of knowledge about the services," he said.
Driven by a board of directors, SIR represents a partnership between the Catawba County Aging Coalition, Catawba County Chamber of Commerce and member agencies. By the end of the year, it aims to achieve 501(c)3 status, she said.
"SIR will be a source of information for seniors, families and caregivers," Vincent said, adding that member businesses and agencies can utilize SIR to promote events, programs and, in the future, obtain foundational money to help get creative new projects off the ground. "I see SIR being an organization that each of us can use to reach out to seniors."
SIR, in partnership with the chamber of commerce, is planning the county's first senior expo, Prime of Life, on Aug. 29. There, agencies looking to serve the senior population, families and caregivers of the aging population can sponsor booths and deliver information to the residents from Catawba, Caldwell, Alexander and Burke counties.
The senior expo will also be an opportunity for SIR to deliver a redeveloped resources guide that will compile all the agencies that serve the senior population, as part of a partnership with Western Piedmont Governments and advertising businesses.
Already response to SIR, the expo and the forthcoming directory has been enormous — just like the growth among the county's senior population in the county.
"It has been like a freight train, it is going so fast," Vincent said.
"We are holding on to the doors just trying to get inside."