The Village Model: Everyone Has Something to Contribute to Aging in Place

Where do you envision living as you age? In the same place you are now? In a place you can call "home" (instead of a hospital-like care setting)?

What will you do if you are still active and involved, but you need a little help keeping your living space repaired and cleaned? Or need a ride to an evening event because you no longer wish to drive at night?

According to AARP, 90 percent of adults want to stay in their current homes in their current communities as they age. One way to stay in your home longer is to make connections in your community. When you're connected, you can stay involved and meet people who can drive you to an appointment or help keep your home maintained. And an easy way to get connected is to join a Village. They are being formed all over the US and right here in King County.

What is a Village? It is not so much a place as it is a plan for aging in your home. It is a membership-based organization with paid staff that act as a personal, central resource to coordinate access to services for you. The services could be provided by trained neighborhood volunteers, or you might be referred to screened vendors for more complex needs and professional services. Usually, Villages offer social and activity groups as well.

How did Villages get started? Originally started in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, MA in 2002, the Village concept arose out of community members' desires to reside in their own homes while being able to access services that addressed their changing lifestyles as they aged. They wanted to take responsibility for their aging, which meant deciding how they would live and ultimately spend their days. At its core, the Village Movement is customer- and community-driven. Today there are more than 200 Villages in the United States.

This KCTS Channel 9 video features a member of the PNA Village in Seattle.

There's No Place Like Home: Seniors Hold on to Urban Independence Into Old Age, a PBS NewsHour video about the Beacon Hill Village in Boston, profiles the kind of folks who can benefit from membership.

Is there a typical Village? Not really. Judy Kinney, executive director of NEST, the Village in northeast Seattle, often says, "If you've seen one Village … you've seen one Village."  

Each Village is planned specifically to meet the needs of the local community. By design, all Villages focus on engagement to remain healthy, not on frailty and disability. Inter-dependence is the goal, not isolated independence. Villages collaborate to provide services that members need. Villages and Timebanks sometimes partner in the community. (See the Timebank story in this issue or watch the University of Michigan Environmental Psychology Lab's timebanking video.)

What are the costs? Each Village determines its own annual fees, which range from $250 per year to $900 per year for an individual, with a price break for couples. Volunteer services are free to members, while professionals and agencies charge fees but may give member discounts.

Is there a Village near you? There are currently three Villages in Seattle:

For more information, read Is There a Village on Your Horizon? in the August 2014 issue of AgeWise King County. Two more communities have formed planning committees—West Seattle and Shoreline-Lake Forest Park—that are considering affiliating with their local senior centers. Lyle Evans, interim director of the Senior Center of West Seattle, invites participation in their planning process and networking. There are also a few interested folks in east King County and other communities in Washington state (click here).

Who joins a Village? Joining a Village is attractive to many types of people. Often, it is an individual or couple who are in their own house, condo, or apartment who would like a bit of help now and then. Some might have adult children, friends, or neighbors who help with spring cleaning, raking leaves, shoveling snow, gardening, or repairing a back step. But some folks do not have kids or their kids live in another state and can't help with household projects. They might not feel comfortable asking a friend or neighbor to work around their house—and hiring an hourly worker can get expensive.

A highly requested service in most Villages is transportation. Usually it's for simple errands like going to the store, dry cleaner, or hair or doctor appointments. Most Villages have volunteers who can pick up members for these trips.

Often Villages provide social activities like presentations, lectures, parties, dances, and music. Members find that events expand their social circle by connecting them with neighbors they might not have met in another way.

Joining a Village can mean different things to different people. Says Denise Klein, current executive director of Wider Horizon, "Villages don't just build relationships—they build community. Joining the Village means I'll be gaining:

  1. A social network … offering me the opportunity to tailor my own activities and to find friends and acquaintances who like to do what I like to do.
  2. A structure where I can find meaning and purpose by volunteering … on my own terms and in my own neighborhood.
  3. Knowledge about and connection to the best services … what I need when I need it.
  4. A plan in place for a future time when I may need more assistance.
  5. More peace of mind for my loved ones since they know my Village will help support me.
  6. An approach to aging in place that benefits the community and that I may want to support financially."

How does a Village work? A Village is a collaborative effort. To make a Village work, everyone can participate regardless of age—as a member, a volunteer, or a preferred vendor. Each party can give something and receive something. All of the residents value community and intergenerational relationships.

The NEST Village website describes these benefits:

  • Family members feel less stressed and isolated.
  • Neighbors of all ages become more deeply engaged in their communities.
  • Neighborhoods feel safer and friendlier.
  • Businesses see more customers and become more closely linked with their neighborhood.
  • Village members receive dignified assistance when and if they want it, connections with their community, and can stay in the houses and neighborhoods they love.

The Village:

  • Matches members with volunteers to assist with daily tasks like transportation, household tasks, and staying physically active.
  • Organizes events and activities for learning and fun.
  • Maintains a list of pre-screened professionals and discounts at local businesses.

Villages work because they make it easier for people to connect in the ways that they want to. Whether for social activities or a hand around the house, Villages connect neighbors.

Volunteering is the cornerstone: Volunteers—key players in all Villages—have the chance to provide an extra helping hand and neighborly support. As PNA Village co-founder Ed Medeiros says, "A volunteer might get involved in a Village to give Arlene a ride to the store and take Roland to his regular haircuts. Then, at the ice cream social, all three get to talking and they become friends. The volunteer becomes the conduit for people who live close but might never have met."  

Volunteers have the freedom and flexibility to say yes or no to any volunteering opportunity. Depending on interests and availability, individuals may volunteer regularly (e.g., each week) or just one time.

What about professional services? Many Villages screen local professionals and businesses (via background and reference checks) before their services can be offered to Village members. The idea is that when a member calls the Village for a referral, one of the previously screened vendors can be contacted. This saves the member the job of researching professionals and relying on sketchy information. Village referrals are beneficial to local business people, like plumbers, electricians, painters, auto mechanics, etc. Many times, vendors offer a discount to Village members.

How does a Village get started? With a core group of about 15 folks who care about your neighborhood, you can start a Village. Here are the steps:

  • Planning: Form a planning committee of interested neighbors. Committee members need a broad set of skills—meeting facilitation, budgeting and financial management, research, marketing, grant writing, community organizing, public speaking and promotion or salesmanship skills.
  • Governance: Decide how the new Village should be structured (e.g., as an independent nonprofit organization, as a program of an existing nonprofit, or with fiscal sponsorship through an existing nonprofit).
  • Identity: Decide on name and geographical area.
  • Membership: Develop a structure for dues and membership policies.
  • Budget: In addition to membership dues, your budget should include corporate sponsorships, foundation grants, and gifts from major donors.
  • Fundraising: Raise a modest amount of money to hire someone who can start the process of recruiting members and working with the planning group to launch the Village. Alternatively, you may find a volunteer with the skills and the time who can commit to about 15 hours per week for a year or more.

On average, it takes about two years to launch a Village. This may seem like a long time, but if you want the Village to be owned by the community, you need this much time to develop it. Senior Services can help provide the support, guidance and supplement skills needed to create it.

As Judy Kinney says, "Seattle is growing faster and bigger. Villages are the antidote. In their later years, people make some of the most challenging and complex decisions of their lives. And although they might think they are joining a Village to get a ride or give a ride, they're really involved in a ground-breaking new-old-fashioned concept: Everyone has something to contribute to community."

Contributor Dori Gillam manages Aging Your Way, a community-driven movement to engage community in building reciprocity and resilience so we all have great places in which to age, at Senior Services. For more information, visit www.seniorservices.org/agingyourway or contact Dori at 206-268-6737 or dorig@seniorservices.org.

Photo credit: The photo with the red-winged blackbird at the top of this page was provided courtesy of PNA Village, a program of the Phinney Neighborhood Association (www.phinneycenter.org/village).

Villages are "Neighbors Helping Neighbors"

You can be part of a Village whether you need services yourself, or can provide them for members. Examples include:

  • Companionship
  • Computer support
  • Educational and social events at nearby locations
  • Gardening
  • Grocery shopping
  • Housecleaning
  • Climb a ladder
  • Painters
  • Pet care
  • Plumbers
  • Rides to doctor's visits, a friend's house, the grocery store, or other errands
  • Walking partner
  • Yard work

Village volunteers can also:

  • Facilitate a member group.
  • Work in the office.
  • Plan events.