For every retiree that packs up and moves to Florida, Arizona, or some other warm-weather spot, another four or five prefer to stay right where they are. But as we get older, many people find themselves needing more help, whether it’s a referral to someone who can fix a leaky toilet, a ride to the doctor, or simply a few friends to keep them company.
Many older adults want to stay in their homes as long as they can, and often they need some help to make that possible. Not everyone has family to count on. So for tens of thousands of older Americans, the solution has been something called “the village.”
The so-called village movement coordinates crucial services for the elderly, allowing many to age in their homes. It’s now expanded to over 300 spots in the US, as advocates adapt the model to different communities.
First of all, it is not an actual village. It’s a neighborhood-based membership organization. Usually the way it works is that older adults pay dues of a few hundred dollars a year and that pays for an office and a tiny staff. And then the village provides connections to discounted services, anything from contractors to grocery shopping to home health workers. There are also social activities. Basically, it’s a lot of things you might find in assisted living except you don’t have to leave your home.
We all want to be independent and in control of our lives for as long as possible—preferably until the day we die. But independence doesn’t always pan out; illness or injury can strike suddenly and make life alone impractical. As our worlds shrink, living alone can start to feel lonely—and loneliness, researchers say, can kill.
The village community model combines aging in place with the type of interdependent living that helps make aging alone for longer possible. It’s an innovative, DIY take on what life in traditional American villages used to offer—trusted relationships with neighbors and the wider community. A non-profit grassroots solution that’s governed by its members, villages have become the way of life for thousands of urban and suburban seniors across the US.
In the village model, older members of a neighborhood or group of neighborhoods are linked with one another and with a network of volunteer and paid services. The members help each other. If you’re sick, other villagers will visit and bring you what you need—and vice versa. Service providers provide additional help. Need to see a doctor? A volunteer driver will take you. When your sink clogs, the village will send a trusted repair person who services all the village members. And social events keep you all connected.
Besides the ongoing neighborliness of village members, a typical village provides for the social, educational, and day-to-day needs of members through a more formal structure administered by the village coordinator.
Social events might include game days, lunches and dinners, trips to museums and other places of interest, parties, meditation, and discussion groups based on members’ backgrounds and interests. And there are educational events: speakers, seminars, workshops, and courses on a wide variety of topics.
The coordinator manages a vetted list of service providers and community partners to call when a villager needs help: home maintenance and repairs, technology help, health and wellness services, transportation, light housekeeping, and shopping assistance. Service providers—from drivers to handymen—will often negotiate special prices when they’re contracted to work for an entire village.
There are also volunteer opportunities for members to help each other one-on-one, organize and lead a new activity or class, or become board members to help the overall operations.
The first such village was launched in 2001 in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood by a handful of residents who didn’t want to relocate to Florida, move in with their children, or end up in assisted-living communities. “Every village is unique,” says Laura Connors, executive director of the Beacon Hill Village. “The thing that makes them all a village is that they’re member-driven.”
Beacon Hill Village offers exercise classes, cocktail parties, trips to the grocery store, handyman referrals, and discounted services, among other things, to its approximately 400 members. The members also form friendships and organize activities among themselves.
A recent survey by AARP found that nearly 90% of older adults in America want to stay in their homes and communities as they age. The village model helps seniors to age in a place of their choosing, connected to their communities with the supports and tools they need to create successful aging of their own design.
Village members experience reduced isolation, increased independence, and enhanced purpose of life.
Villages are well positioned to improve the population health of the communities they serve. In the United States, roughly one in three people older than 65 lives alone, and half of those over 85 live alone.
Next month, part 2 of 2 of The Village Movement will introduce the Village-to-Village Network and discuss in detail How Do I Start A Village.
~You can have a better life~