Nona Saling didn't know many of her neighbors before she suffered a seizure last year, but that changed quickly when her Chapel Hill community stepped up to help.
Saling's neighbors in Falconbridge Village gave her rides to medical appointments and the grocery store during the six months she couldn't drive, allowing her to stay in her home.
"I feel a lot more comfortable thinking of this as my long-term home," said Saling, 61, who was later trained to provide similar help for her neighbors. "I feel that, should I have another illness, I have a resource I can count on without being a burden to family."
Falconbridge and the nearby Meadowmont community are following the lead of Beacon Hill Village, a Boston neighborhood that organized as an "aging in place" community in 2001 to offer services to help residents stay in their homes as they age.
Dozens of naturally occurring retirement communities are popping up across the country. Here in North Carolina, where the 65-plus population will almost double by 2030, these two villages are in the forefront.
"We need to do something to help each other, whether it's to stay healthy or provide services to people who are frail," said Janice Wells, an assistant professor of social work at North Carolina State University.
"It's a confluence of a lot of folks with good ideas and a lot of needs coming together at the right time," said Bob Jackson, a Falconbridge resident and AARP North Carolina state director. "With the budget crisis, this is an opportune time for people to get together and create alternatives."
For a $15 annual fee, the Falconbridge Village organization offers a range of services for members who need temporary help, such as transportation, running errands, meals, and social and emotional support. A member website offers resident reviews of service providers including landscapers, plumbers and pet groomers.
The village there began in 2006 when Rosemary Hyde and her late partner, Ellen Scheiner, M.D., were inspired when they read about Beacon Hill Village and decided to try to start one in their community. But it wasn't an immediate hit with their neighbors.
"It didn't matter whether they were in their 80s or their 60s. 'Oh, I'm not ready to talk about that yet. I'm not that old. Not me!' "Hyde said.
Undeterred, they hosted a brainstorming session from which grew a popular "traveling pub" hosted in a neighbor's home every other week. Writing, walking and wine-tasting clubs followed. Since then, the Falconbridge community has trained care teams through Project Compassion in Chapel Hill. Hyde has since moved.
Wells helped organize another village in Meadowmont, and was a beneficiary of it last year.
"I'm 64, but I certainly got a taste of this when I had a traumatic fall when I was doing volunteer work in December," said Wells. "I had to take medical leave from my job and really began to understand the importance of our aging-in-place group."
Neighbors walked her dog and fixed her meals.
A nonprofit called the Carolina Villages Project will offer concierge-type services for a fee to older people in the Chapel Hill area, said Bill Herzog, a Meadowmont Village resident.
"People living in their own homes and aging want to be able to call one phone number to find someone to give them a ride to bridge club or a ride to the doctor," Herzog said.
Elinor Ginzler, AARP's director of livable communities, called the village concept an "innovative model."
AARP research recently released a report, "Neighbors Helping Neighbors: A Qualitative Study of Villages Operating in the District of Columbia," which includes best practices and recommendations from five operating villages.
Sue Price Johnson is a freelance journalist based in Raleigh, N.C.
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