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Ginzler: It Takes a Village

An innovative model for aging in your community

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a "world of services and solutions" available to help you age in place? That's exactly what an innovative "Village" model of community-based support for aging is providing to thousands of 50+ people who want to grow old in the homes and neighborhoods that they love.

This grassroots, nonprofit approach is based on the simple concept expressed in the African saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." People on the forefront of this new approach have reformulated this proverb to assert, "It takes a village to support successful aging."

The Village Concept

The idea behind a Village is a simple one: Community members come together with the common desire to stay in their neighborhood as they age. To do that, they incorporate as a nonprofit, with all members paying a yearly fee. These monies are then used by the Village to provide support and services for members as needs arise. The range of services varies depending on the resources, needs, and desires of those who have joined the Village. It is important to remember that these are grassroots, member-driven organizations that focus on finding solutions for members' needs.

Basic assistance with members' daily needs is at the core of all Village models. Among the services offered are:

  • Personalized transportation to shop for groceries, meet with friends, go to the airport, or see the doctor
  • Meals—either prepared at your home or delivered to your home
  • Referrals to professionals for evaluations and customized home health care
  • Routine housecleaning
  • Access to discounted services, such as the handyman work that is required to keep homes in good repair or making improvements so people can stay safe and comfortable in their homes

In addition, some Villages have a "concierge" level of services that extend well beyond the basics. For instance, the Beacon Hill Village model in the well-known Boston neighborhood provides:

  • Group transportation to special events
  • Tables at local restaurants to socialize and have a good time
  • Help with paying business, medical, and household bills
  • Assistance with errands, such as mailing packages and organizing closets
  • Wellness seminars by experts in the aging field
  • Pet-sitting services
  • Computer classes in your home; and
  • Travel adventures for individuals and groups, such as discounted trips to art museums, sports events, and performing arts offerings

All of these services and programs allow older adults to lead safe, healthy, and productive lives in their own homes. Since the focus in Villages is on "successful aging," many set an age restriction of 50 years or older to be a member.

Village Operations

So, how do these organizations operate? 

  • As an incorporated nonprofit, it has a board that guides the organization's work. For funding, the Village collects annual fees paid by individuals or households on a yearly basis. (For a frame of reference, the Beacon Hill Village charges $580 per person or $780 for a household.)
  • They also depend heavily on volunteers to provide many of the services and assist with daily operations. These volunteers work diligently to provide many of the trips, cook the meals, and connect members with local resources to solve their challenges, whatever they may be. In some cases, members can volunteer and "bank" their hours to "spend" when they need help themselves. In other cases, younger volunteers provide great opportunities for intergenerational connections.
  • Villages can also hire staff to provide administrative oversight of programs and services. Both volunteers and paid staff often approach local businesses (plumbers, home health agencies, financial advisers) to negotiate discounted rates. Through these arrangements Village members have access to highly recommended yet affordable professionals who help members solve whatever problems they confront. The net result is that Village members get the help they need to stay independent and engaged in civic and social life.
  • Village staff and volunteers build strong connections with local aging experts, businesses, and relevant agencies, and then use these networks to connect members to the services and programs they need.  In addition, they may approach foundations to look for grant support for their work.
  • Some Villages offer "discounted" membership for those who can't afford the going rate.

Why Join?

Every Village is unique because of the needs and desires of the 50+ within that community. Villages often initially appeal only to older residents (70+) who more than likely have a greater need for caregiving help. But as other "younger" older adults (50-70) in the community start to learn more about the model, they recognize that joining is a form of insurance for them and their families. Many of the members of Villages are in excellent health and continue to work, but join to gain access to concierge services and vendor discounts.

And yes, caregivers, you can give a gift membership to your loved ones.

It Takes a Village

Coming together to help neighbors is a strong American tradition. "Barn raisings" are a great example of people using their collective energies to create something of tremendous value in a short period of time. That same level of community commitment to providing services and solutions is at the heart of the Village model.  

As I've written in previous columns, there are many challenges associated with creating environments for successful aging. The overwhelming preference of older Americans is to remain independent in their homes and communities. That is why the Village model is so exciting and promising. It provides an innovative approach to providing basic care and service for older adults who need some help. It can also be expanded well beyond the bare necessities, to include:

  • Plant watering
  • Stocking the refrigerator with fresh staples after a vacation
  • Help finding a personal trainer.

If this sounds like an approach that would interest you, a loved one, or others in your neighborhood, connect to to learn more about the Village model.

And since we are close to our nation's birthday and I'm feeling patriotic, it strikes me that the Village model is very much in the spirit of Lincoln's famous phrase: "Of the people, By the People, For the People."

Happy July 4th!


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