The Beacon Hill area of Boston played an active and notable role in the American Revolution. Now, members of the Beacon Hill Village may have created a revolution in how seniors in America spend their later years.
The idea that seniors can help other seniors to age in place through the power of a neighborhood-based support network was the powerhouse thought of Susan McWhinney-Morse and others. The founders of Beacon Hill Village wanted to find an alternative to institutions for persons who long to age in place in their homes but need support to do so. The “Village” idea—that seniors could help one another and bond together to access community goods and services—has caught on. Nearly two hundred of these Villages have sprung up around the United States. Most of these Villages are in suburban areas, but a great number are in urban locations. There is a significant number of rural villages, also.
A Sampling of Features of Aging-in-Place Villages
- One-call information and needs-match exchange system
A self-organized Village becomes the central clearinghouse for information for its members. One phone call can lead Village members to local services and programs, long-term support services, and help in accessing a volunteer network of members and community volunteers.
Whether they need help with such things as rides to the grocery store or a doctor, simple home repairs, or meals delivered during a medical crisis, the Village network is at their disposal. Some Villages have been able to hire full-time office assistants to coordinate volunteers and services. Their salaries are paid through village members’ yearly membership fees. Since Villages offer a pool of returning customers, some local businesses offer discounts to Village members for goods and services. Villages simplify the maze of accessing community and other services by pooling information.
Villages are mostly non-profit organizations and have the sole purpose of helping their members age in place successfully. They are self-formed, self-governed and self-supporting, but some, especially those that serve lower income groups, apply for grants and assistance to help members pay their annual membership fees, which may total hundreds of dollars.
- Respect for one another’s life journeys
Villages respect the diverse interests and preferences of individuals but invite members to join in the fun of communal nature walks, photography contests, poetry writing, painting, adult classes, political discussions, living room talks about Village life, shared holiday celebrations, and other engaging activities.
- Strong reliance on volunteerism
Voluntary help to others is the cornerstone of the Village movement. Villagers join in order to help and be helped throughout the process of aging in place.
Yet what if Villages depend on one another’s volunteer services and a Village ages beyond the “young-old” (65 – 80 years old) and becomes primarily populated by people who are “old-old” (80+ years) who need more help and are unable to give much?
It does not seem to a problem. Some people join Villages long before they need services themselves. They volunteer, knowing that when their time comes they will be paid back in kind. Some Villages, like Ashby Village in Berkeley, CA, have a network of volunteers outside the Village who fill in when needed.
- Growing numbers
The Village movement is growing. Pat Sussman and Shirley Haberfeld, who were inspired by Beacon Hill Village and founded Ashby Village, feared that their Village would not be self-sustaining. However, they have achieved a great retention rate as seen by their annual membership renewal. They have almost a 100% renewal rate and have doubled membership since the Village opened. The group maintains an inviting, well-written website that honors the diverse interests and contributions of Village members.
Beyond this there is now a national Village-to-Village Network—a web-based network that shares ideas and mutual support. See vtvnetwork.org.
Some “Villages” are virtual and not neighborhood-based, which stretches their outreach further.
- Villages are leading the way
A report in the Journal of the American Society on Aging noted that there is considerable governmental interest in the Village model. According to the research of authors Poor, Baldwin, and Willett, the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are seeking grass-roots Village movers and shakers. Georgia has received a federal grant to promote Villages statewide. The District of Columbia is trying to spread the Village movement throughout the city.
Some big players have also entered the picture, including the Hearst Foundation and MetLife Foundation, which, along with others, launched the Village-to-Village Network.
Such “Villages”—neighborhood-centered and virtual—may be one of the principle means by which seniors age in place successfully.
Ashby Village: Community, Support, Peace of Mind. (n.d.). Website at http://www.ashbyvillage.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=748044&module_id=892.
Bentley, C. (September 17, 2015). Why More Seniors Are Forming their own “Villages.” From the Atlantic Citylab. Available online at http://www.citylab.com/work/2015/09/why-seniors-are-forming-villages-to-age-in-place/405583/.
Poor, S., Baldwin, C., Willett, J. (Spring 2012).The Village Movement Empowers Older Adults to Stay Connected to Home and Community. Generations – Journal of the American Society on Aging, 112-134. Available online at http://www.hpm.umn.edu/ltcresourcecenter/research/ltss/generationsfall_2012.pdf#page=114.