Healthy Aging in Rural Towns (HeART) Toolkit

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The Healthy Aging in Rural Towns (HeART) Toolkit contains guidelines and resources for conducting a needs-and-assets assessment and for choosing strategies to strengthen your community’s support network and help older adults thrive. Tips and anecdotes have been added by the authors based on their experiences from projects conducted in 2018–2019 in three rural Wisconsin communities.

This toolkit was designed primarily for use by rural communities, recognizing their oftentimes sparse resources, unique challenges and positive qualities. However, other communities will also find this guide useful, as the steps to needs assessment, asset gathering and strategy making are similar across communities.

Who should use this toolkit?

This toolkit is designed for community leaders—government, health, education, faith-based organizations, social services, or community development.

What does the toolkit contain?

  • Explanations of each step in the process
  • Tools that correspond to each step (e.g., worksheets, decision guides, examples of data summaries, sample meeting agendas, sample job descriptions, etc.)
  • Anecdotes, tips and lessons learned from HeART projects
  • Examples of slides to use in explaining the issues, goals and planned project to community audiences
  • Links to web-based resources on coalition building and assessment models
  • Editable versions of the tools and materials so you can adapt them for the needs of your community

How should these tools be used?

The Healthy Aging in Rural Towns (HeART) Toolkit can be used to:

  • Build a coalition to advocate for improvements in your community’s support network for older adults and family caregivers,
  • Provide a roadmap for an assessment-and-planning project,
  • Develop a baseline assessment of older adult and family caregiver needs in your community,
  • Encourage discussions and decisions about aging-in-place,
  • Raise community awareness about the needs of older adults and family caregivers, and
  • Identify strategies for strengthening your existing support network.

Development of this toolkit

The Healthy Aging in Rural Towns (HeART) Toolkit was developed by researchers and clinicians (Co-Principal Investigators: Barbara Bowers PhD, RN, FAAN and Kim Nolet MS) at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Nursing Center for Aging Research and Education.

This project was supported by a grant from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. Additional support was provided by the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health’s Health Innovation Program (HIP), the Wisconsin Partnership Program, and the Community-Academic Partnerships core of the University of Wisconsin Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (UW ICTR), grant 9 U54 TR000021 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (previously grant 1 UL1 RR025011 from the National Center for Research Resources). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or other funders.

Please send questions, comments and suggestions to

Toolkit Citation

Schumacher S, Schwebach M, Partridge E, Bowers B, Nolet K. Healthy Aging in Rural Towns (HeART) Toolkit. University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Nursing Center for Aging Research and Education and UW Health Innovation Program. Madison, WI; 2021. Available at:

About the Authors

Barbara Bowers, PhD, RN, FAAN work focuses on supporting formal and informal caregivers and on quality of life for older adults with significant disability. She has been a researcher and educator for over 30 years.

Kim Nolet, MS is a Research Manager at the UW-Madison School of Nursing with a specialty in adult education. Her work is engaged in developing learning solutions for caregivers that can improve quality of life for older adults.

Sharon Schumacher, MA was the project manager for HeART and had twenty years’ experience in rural community outreach and development.

Molly Schwebach, MS collects stories and lessons learned for the Healthy Aging in Rural Towns project as part of her work in higher education, community engagement and social change.

Eileen Whalen Partridge DNP, RN, AGPCNP-BC provided support as Project Assistant to HeART coalitions during the data collection process and development of community strategies to support older adults and caregivers. She currently works as a clinician educator and geriatrics provider at UC Davis Health.