Milan completes list of Age-Friendly Communities projects

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

Last week, the city of Milan finished a project that completes a list of projects done recently as a part of a grant received from the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging. The grant, titled “Age-Friendly Communities” was designed to help a community become more age-friendly for all ages. Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging facilitated the funds provided by the Southwest Initiative Foundations. Betty Christensen, of the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging, works with three communities in southwest Minnesota each year to provide the Age-Friendly Communities grant, which has been in place for four years. “It’s very fun work,” Christensen says. “Milan was one of my communities last year. This year I’m working with Madison, Beardsley, and Eden Valley.”

Milan community member Ann Thompson worked with Christensen on the grant for Milan. “I thought - why not? Why wouldn’t we do it, so we formed a committee of people young and old - all ages and worked out a community survey,” says Thompson. “Two high school girls who were working with me up at the old Milan School building translated the survey into Chuukese which was really helpful.” Chuukese is one of the major indigenous languages of the Malayo-Polynesian linguistic family. That translation was helpful in Milan with a large portion of the population having a primary language of Chuukese. “I think we were very fortunate in Milan, too, because our leadership committee was multi-cultural, which was really fun,” said Christensen. 

The survey provided the committee with an idea of what was needed most in Milan. “And then COVID hit, but we didn’t want to waste the opportunity so I went to some of the council meetings and we narrowed it down to what eventuated,” said Thompson. The committee decided on purchasing a 200 inch indoor/outdoor movie screen, a projector that allows movies to be shown in daylight, a sound system, a wifi DVD player, a microphone for the city council, some weaving materials for the art school, and the pergola erected last week. “So kind of a variety of things,” said Thompson. “We are hoping to show movies in the park a couple of evenings a month just to get people together, and then this winter we hope to be able to do the same in the Milan gym. Milan’s quite a young community, but there’s still senior citizens here as well, so I think that would be a good opportunity for some intergenerational activity to happen.” Thompson says Milan residents fully utilize the public spaces available already. “Because Milan is such a young community, public spaces like the park are well used. The park is packed with people all afternoon - people of all ages, so I know this [the pergola] will be well used. It’s a good spot by the Post Office if someone’s walking down to get their mail they might stop off and have a little chat,” Thompson says.

Now that the projects are complete, Thompson says she hopes that spreading the word about the projects completed in Milan helps other communities looking into the grant. “I remember when we started Betty shared with our committee what other communities were doing so it’s good to know kind of get ideas so hopefully this will help other communities too,” Thompson says. “The sound system for the city council meetings has been an ongoing issue. I would go to meetings and I could hardly hear, so that was one of the first things decided on. We definitely needed that. Most of the equipment we purchased can be used for various functions and meetings.”

The pergola features two built-in benches on one end and a built-in table on the other end. While the pergola was being erected, Milan Mayor Ron Anderson stood by to observe. “It will be good to just have a quiet spot to get away from the world or talk or eat. Without the grant we could never have afforded it,” Anderson said. “I’d say the population is about 400, but we have a lot of young people, a lot of kids. I moved here 37 years ago from St. Cloud and I’ll never leave this place in fact I’ve got my spot in the cemetery already.” 

Anderson moved to Milan after he bought the grocery store “I got hurt a motorcycle accident and I had a little bit of money for a down payment. I’d wanted to own a grocery store my whole life. This was the only one I looked at that I figured I could buy and make a living at so I did it for 18 and a half years before my health gave out,” he says. After becoming involved in local politics, he eventually became the Mayor. Anderson now hopes that the steps taken to make Milan more friendly to all ages helps inspire the younger generations to stay in town and become involved. “I’ve enjoyed it. You have to serve your community,” he says. “Now that’s what we need from the younger generation - we need them to step forward and be involved in their community. You need new, progressive thinking.”