Guest Blogger Bill Thaxton: Introducing Viva Village!

I am blogging for the first time for the new Viva Village! Serving Beaverton and Beyond. We already have a good number of folks participating in our Planning Group. We started developing the Village in early January when a small group of interested people got together. Rae Coleman and Jolinda Osborne are co-chairs and other volunteers are stepping up to take on responsibilities. Some of the more important decisions we’ve made thus far include membership age. We are focused on seniors wanting to age in their homes, as well as people with special needs from 18 and up in age.

The north edge of Viva Village! begins at 185th and West Union Rd on the west continuing onto Thompson Rd to the east boundary ofWashington County. Scholls Ferry Rd from about 175th up to the east edge of Washington County is the south and east border. Our west border meets that of Village Without Walls, the more developed of the two Washington County Villages. This is a wide area of responsibility and we are busy putting in place the organizational structure which will best support our developing Village.

The Planning Group has also agreed to develop a logo, informational brochures, social media, and a website. A group of us will be meeting on April 4th to discuss priorities and create project plans for work on various assignments. We are also discussing ways to reach other interested parties within the Viva Village! area to present information for them to learn about our plans. We are having a blast developing our Village and welcome anyone interested in joining us to come to an in-house Village 101. Our next in-house 101 informational meeting is scheduled for April 2 at 7:00 PM in Terra Linda. If you would like to come please contact Rae Coleman at rbarsottic@hotmail.com for details. Watch for more information soon on this blog.

Addressing the Gap

I looked at the date of my last blog post and realize it was 8 months ago.  That’s a long time by anyone’s reckoning, and certainly far too long between blog posts.

So why the big gap?  Well, the short answer is that I’ve just been too busy to blog.  Since last July, the local Village movement has absolutely exploded.  In July 2013, there were only two spoke Villages in development: Eastside Village PDX on the east side of Portland and Village Without Walls out in Washington County.  Now, 8 months later, there are SIX (6) spoke Villages in development: Eastside Village, Village Without Walls, RISE Village (11 neighborhoods south of Powell), Northeast Village PDX (multiple neighborhoods north of I-84), Viva Village! (serving Beaverton and beyond), and  an as-yet-unnamed Village in Lake Oswego.

We are also doing lots of presentations in North Portland and in the South Portland/Multnomah Village/John’s Landing area, and it seems likely that, before summer, two more spoke Villages will have gotten under way.

All of this is great and exactly what we wanted to have happen when we created Villages NW to serve as the catalyst, incubator, and hub for Villages across the metro-area. But to say it is time consuming to be midwifing EIGHT Villages would be an understatement of epic proportions.

In order to make sure another 8 months doesn’t pass before my next blog post, I have decided to open up my blog to some of the other local Village founders, so they can do some of the writing.   So stay tuned for some new voices on this blog in the days/weeks to come.

Why Join a Village if You Can Pay for Anything You Need?

I was recently asked by someone who attended a Village 101 presentation, “I understand why people would join a Village if they wanted an affordable way to age in place. But why would someone who is affluent and can afford to pay for anything he/she might need do it?”

Even though I thought I knew the answer, I decided to post the question on the national Village-to-Village network forum and see what some of the Villages with very affluent members had to say.  Here’s one of my favorite answers:

“Financial resources do not protect against universal life changes and challenges.  Our members are joining to make new friends and feel useful after leaving the workplace; make new connections upon the loss of a spouse/ partner; have moved to a new area or are a long time resident whose friends have moved on; are faced with health issues that increase isolation or diminish financial resources; or simply have a desire to support the community.

 Having “connections” is also good for your health and well-being as shown in lots of research studies.  We also appreciate that, as we age, it’s harder to initiate things and make decisions.  Villages offer convenience with just one phone call to access programs and services already in place.   Makes life simpler.

 There are also benefits in having an economically-diverse Village where people can share both their unique and common experiences — whether it’s a special recipe, fun places to take a walk and explore the neighborhood, ways to save money (which even folks with a lot of money may wish to do), doctor recommendations, travel tips, where to give things away (even ball gowns!)   

The collective of skills found in a village volunteer corps is also quite valuable. For example, computer tech help is a popular request from all members, even members who may otherwise be well-connected or with means. Also, sometimes you do not want to burden friends. Through the Village, members know the volunteer responding to the request for help has the time and wants to help for the specific need of the member.

For those who like to travel or are away in the summer/ winter months, Village members enjoy reciprocity with other Villages around the US through the National Village Exchange — a great way to learn about a new place, get restaurant/hotel recommendations, make new friends.

 Lastly, If someone with resources is reluctant to join as a member, offer them opportunities to volunteer. They will soon see the many, many ways a Village adds to quality of life.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Let’s NOT Make a Deal

The question has come up more than once at Village 101 presentations about what the Village’s relationship to bartering services is going to be.  So I thought this might be a good topic for a post.

Straight bartering of services poses some very real problems.  But rather than discuss them theoretically, let’s look at a real-life practical example.

For example, let’s say that 78 year old Mary needs transportation on an ongoing basis because she doesn’t drive. Setting aside taxis (which are expensive), Mary can use the local bus system and she can also get some transportation from a local nonprofit transportation provider—both of which the Village could help Mary arrange.  But what if Mary regularly needs transportation when the nonprofit doesn’t offer it (like after 4 pm) or to someplace not easily accessed by bus? What does Mary do then?

In Mary’s opinion it would be great if she could just trade something she has to offer and wants to give—like computer instruction—-in exchange for “x” number of rides and skip the whole Village membership piece altogether.  That way, it wouldn’t cost her anything and she could also teach people how to use their computers which she likes to do.

Sounds good? Everybody gets what they want right?  And better yet, no money needs to change hands. So what could possibly be the problem with this?

Let’s start with the issue of how to fairly commoditize the value of the services being exchanged.  Does one hour of computer instruction = one hour of transportation?   Is one hour of help decluttering your garage = to one hour of help completing social security forms?  Is one hour of grocery shopping = one hour of accompanying someone to a medical appointment? Since that’s the way most exchanges work, let’s say yes. One hour = one hour regardless of the complexity & skill level of the tasks involved.

But even if we say one hour of computer instruction  = one hour of transportation, what does Mary do if no one in the Village requests computer instruction?  In other words, if no one wants what she has to trade.  She is still going to need transportation.  That need is not going to go away.  Does she try to find something else to trade?

Or what if only one person in the Village needs computer instruction this month and it only takes two hours to teach?  Would it be enough for Mary to only get two hours of transportation this month in exchange?  How is she going to get to where she needs to go the rest of the time?

Or what if there are five people in the Village all of whom want to offer computer instruction in exchange for rides?  Odds are there will not be enough requests for computer instruction to exchange for all the rides these people need.  Or if there are three requests for computer instruction this month, which three of those people get them and which two don’t?

It should be clear by now why Villages don’t do straight barter. It just breaks down too fast.  If someone needs something essential—–like regular transportation to the doctors, to run errands, to the grocery store, to an evening social event—it can’t be dependent on them having something to trade.  If they are going to be able to age-in-place and continue to take care of themselves, their transportation needs have to be met consistently and dependably. Which is why they become a Village member.

That way for one low fee (around $12-15 per week) they get several round-trip rides each week to places they need to go.  Does the same volunteer always take them? No, probably not.  The Village will have lots of people who volunteer to drive. But this way, they can count on getting to where they need to go every week without always having to find someone who wants computer instruction  (or yard work or meal preparation)  in exchange for the ride.  And, for that same $12-15 per week, they can get a lot of other services/programs/support they may also need in addition to the rides.

Given the cost of gasoline and the time obligations of transporting someone even just to the grocery store each and every week, year after year, for 5 years in a row, you can see why many adult children buy memberships for their parents. It gives the parents back their independence and it lessens the burden of having to be a caretaker on the adult child.

I hope it is clear why Villages don’t just facilitate straight bartering/exchange of services. Members join a Village in order to receive aging-in-place support on an ongoing basis, which the Village arranges for them as inexpensively as possible.  Barters simply can’t be counted on to work long-term, which is exactly what Villages are supposed to do: be a dependable and sustainable way for people to age-in-place.

This is not to say that volunteer hours shouldn’t be timebanked and redeemable.  We’re exploring how that might work and what we—and our friends in the community—might be able to offer in exchange as a way to reward our volunteers.   But that’s a subject for another post.

Why Villages? Why Now?

According to the Greater Portland Pulse, there were over 190,000 people aged 65 and older living in the Portland metro area as of the 2010 census. By 2030, that number is expected to grow to almost 395,000.

Chana Andler, Executive Director, Villages NW

Chana Andler,
Executive Director, Villages NW

That’s a lot of people. So many in fact that even if they all wanted to move into retirement facilities, there is no way they could do so. There simply aren’t enough facilities in existence or being built to accommodate that many people. Not to mention that a huge percentage of this population—current estimates suggest up to 75%—don’t have enough retirement savings to be able to afford the $3000+ per month it would cost.

Fortunately, it’s not where most of us want to end up.

According to a recent survey by AARP, 89% of older adults want to age in their own homes and neighborhoods. This is particularly true of the Boomers who have visited their parents and grandparents in the senior ghettos that were created to warehouse them during their golden years. It’s not the vision of aging they have for themselves.

For most Boomers—-indeed, for most older adults—-their vision of aging is one of aging-in-place. Of growing old, if not in the home they have lived in for 40 years, at least in the neighborhood and community they know and love.

Fortunately, their desire to age-in-place turns out to be a very good thing—good for them and good for society. Aging-in-place has been found to improve seniors’ overall health, life satisfaction and self-esteem. It improves both their longevity and their quality of life.

Aging-in-place is also cost-effective. As reported in The Fiscal Times in 2010: “The median monthly cost for nursing home care in 2009 was $5,243 — more than five times that for seniors living at home.” And according to the National Aging in Place Council, “In 2008, the average cost of a home health aide for a single person was $19 per hour. Assisted-living facilities fees were about $3,008 per month.”

Contrast this to the cost of a Village annual membership—which even in the most expensive urban areas tops out at a maximum of $1000 per year and in most cases is considerably less—and it’s not difficult to see why a recent national report concluded, “Solutions that help seniors age in place are considerably cheaper than the alternatives, and will actually save seniors and taxpayers money by making transportation and services more efficient, while lowering overall healthcare expenditures.” [1]

However, the value of Villages—for their members and for society—does not stop there.

By being focused on building authentic community and relationships between members, Villages dramatically reduce isolation. This can be particularly significant after the loss of a spouse when Village membership helps provide continuity, connection and an ongoing network of support.

Villages are efficient. They do not duplicate services. Instead, they help members make full use of existing community resources and then, fill in the gaps with services from the Village.

Villages are a solution that can work for the middle class and lower middle class, as well as for people with significant means. By making it possible for seniors to get the support they need to age-in-place for as little as $10-15 per week, villages help conserve their (limited) financial resources and help prevent–or at least slow—them from sliding downward into poverty.

Villages help restore purpose and meaning to people’s lives, giving members and volunteers important work to do and finding meaningful ways for each to contribute regardless of age.

Grassroots villages give agency and control back to the seniors themselves. In a Village they are members, stakeholders and decision-makers. They are not patients or clients or customers.

Unlike most approaches to aging, Villages are not age-segregated. Village members continue to live in their own neighborhoods surrounded by and interacting with people of all ages. Additionally, the Village draws its volunteers not just from its members, but from the broader community, which further nurtures intergenerational interaction and relationship.

Villages dramatically reduce the burden on adult children of aging parents by providing the parents with an alternative system of support, which is reliable, affordable and appealing.

For Boomers, Villages provide a way to both “pay it forward” and to craft the kind of retirement support system they want to have for themselves when the time comes.

Villages are an empowerment model. They do not ask “What is someone going to do to help me?” They ask “What can all of us working together do to help each other?”

As a member of the first Village (Beacon Hill Village in Boston) so eloquently put it, “Warehousing elderly people, whether in beautiful rural settings or in urban towers, not only consigns them to a life of isolation and inactivity, but also bankrupts the community they came from. If we can stay in our own communities as we age, everyone gains.”

We couldn’t agree more.

It will take multiple grassroots Villages to serve the growing senior population of the Portland metro-area alone, and the average development time for a Village is 3-5 years. Every single day nationwide another 10,000 Baby Boomers reach the age of 65. There’s literally no time to waste.

Chana Andler
Executive Director, Villages NW
http://www.VillagesNW.org
May 2013

________________________________
[1] from Aging in Place: A State Survey of Liveability Policies and Practices, developed by AARP and the National Council of State Legislatures.

Planning Group Organization: Take Two

In my last post, If at First You Don’t Succeed, Figure Out Why, I concluded with the statement:  “We have also discarded our committee structure and re-divided our work into projects and ongoing activities, which gives volunteers much more control over what they do and how public they need to be.  I’ll share detailed information about our new organizational structure in my next blog post.”

Since this is that next blog post, it should be fairly obvious what it’s about—namely, the new organizational structure we’re trying with the Eastside Village PDX Planning Group. Our hope is that it will be easier to manage, more productive and give volunteers—especially those who are introverted—more specific ways to contribute that are tailored to their skills and temperaments.  So far, it’s gotten excellent reviews from the group, but it’s early days yet.

The logic behind the re-organization is that almost everything that needs to be done is either part of a project or its an ongoing activity.  What characterizes a PROJECT is that it is of limited duration and it has a beginning, middle and an end. So, for example, here are some of the current projects being worked on by Eastside Village PDX volunteers:

  • Designing, distributing and analyzing a Community Needs Assessment Survey
  • Our June 15th “It Takes a Village” event with AARP Oregon
  • Our August 2013 Rock’n’Roll Fundraiser
  • Tabling at Summer 2013 street fairs & other community events
  • Writing the business plan
  • Drafting the projected operational budget

Each of these projects has a beginning, middle and end. And although there may be many steps involved to execute each, once they are done, they’re done. Some will probably never happen again (like the community survey or the June 15th event).  Others will not be revisited until the following year or later (like summer tabling or writing the budget) and may involve a totally different team of people when that happens.

With projects, people work on them, then move to the next, where they have the opportunity to try on different roles if they like. Each project has its own timeline & project leader.  With many of the projects, there are going to be small roles to fill (like just showing up to help with day of event set-up) and large roles to fill (like being the point person for the project and coordinating it from start to finish). And though some of these projects may take considerable time to complete—like the survey project—it’s not an indefinite commitment.

The other side of the coin is what we are calling ONGOING ACTIVITIES.  These are tasks that are repeating, long-term, and operational—like entering the names of the people who attend Village 101 presentations into the database or updating the website or doing the bookkeeping and reporting on it each month to the planning group. And though an individual person may only do an activity for a finite period of time, once he or she leaves a replacement must be found, since the activity needs to go on.

Some activities take place behind the scenes, like writing grant reports or maintaining the Facebook page.  Others, like researching other Villages and interviewing their founders, require a mix of behind the scenes and outreach work. And the people who volunteer to solicit business sponsors have to be very comfortable with being out in public and making a persuasive case for support.

After listing all the activities, we discovered that they could be loosely grouped by focus or function. For example, some are marketing activities, some are financial activities,  some are research activities and so forth.  This allows us to assign someone from the coordinating team to oversee each of these  groups of activities and to work with the people doing them.

Although we describe all the people doing financial type activities as being on the “Financial Activities Team”, there will rarely be a reason for all of them to meet as a group and many of the tasks can be done solo. So if you’re the kind of person who hates going to meetings, one of these may be perfect for you. On the other hand, if you like working in a small group, being part of a team that plans social activities may be just the ticket.  Different strokes for different folks, and lots of options to choose from.

So here are the ongoing activities we have come up with so far:

Research Activities Team (members work independently on research assignments)

  • Researching other villages
  • Researching existing resources in the Village’s service area & creating database entries

 Programming Activities Team (members work primarily in small groups)

  • Planning social activities
  • Planning educational programs

 Financial Activities Team (some members work independently on discrete, assigned tasks; others work in small groups)

  • Donor recordkeeping & gift processing
  • Bookkeeping—income & expenses
  • Monthly & annual financial reporting
  • Managing transactions with fiscal sponsor
  • Grant research, writing, tracking & reporting
  • Preparing budgets for grant applications and funders
  • Planning fundraising campaigns/activities in order to finance start-up expenses and build reserve pre-launch
  • Designing supporters program & soliciting business supporters
  • Soliciting underwriters for fundraising events

 Volunteer Coordination Activities Team (members primarily work independently on discrete, assigned tasks)

  • Tracking volunteers’ hours
  • Posting volunteer opportunities on Volunteer Match
  • Inviting interested volunteers to planning group meetings
  • Ongoing recruiting of non-service-delivery volunteers, finding their niche(s), & integrating them into the group
  • Following up with Village 101 presentation attendees post-presentation to identify their skills & interests
  • Recruiting volunteers for specific activities or projects
  • Developing list of volunteer opportunities for posting on website and including in newsletters & social media

 Marketing Activities Team (members primarily work independently on discrete, assigned tasks)

  • Data entry into Insightly —mailing list, email list, team members list, volunteer lists, other lists
  • Setting up & maintaining info distribution channel to neighborhood associations
  • Setting up & maintaining info distribution channel to fraternal organizations
  • Setting up & maintaining info distribution channel to other NPOs in our service area
  • Setting up & maintaining info distribution channel to key government agencies/ representatives (local, state and federal)
  • Ongoing social media, including maintaining Facebook pages
  • Submitting online calendar listings
  • Developing & updating website
  • Collecting outreach/marketing data generated from projects and adding it to the marketing databases
  • Responding to questions, emails, phone calls
  • Designing & producing flyers & other collaterals
  • Writing & producing e-newsletter
  • Writing & sending press releases
  • Adding to and updating press lists (print and online)
  • PR: Getting media coverage for Village events
  • Researching & arranging community event co-sponsorships
  • Setting up & maintaining info distribution channel to business associations
  • Getting info from survey team. Adding on to & maintaining info distribution channel to faith-based organizations
  • Coordinating Village 101 presentations: Reserving sites, booking speakers, & promoting the presentations
  • Speakers Bureau: Delivering informational presentations; doing interviews, PR appearances

 Coordinating Activities Team (leadership tasks. Members function as a team with delegated responsibilities)

  • Maintaining the master timeline, which shows how all projects integrate over the next 6+. Collecting this info from project leaders. Helping project managers set up their timelines
  • Tracking the work activities of the different teams and assisting as needed
  • Tracking the progress of projects and assisting as needed
  • Hosting & organizing monthly planning group meeting
  • Responding to unexpected turns-of-events & plugging holes as needed
  • Maintaining relationship with the Village-to-Village Network
  • Outreach to leadership of key PDX organizations & negotiating relationships
  • Prioritizing and sequencing projects and determining how many can be in play at any one time
  • Knowing what needs to be decided next by the planning group and bringing it to a vote/ decision
  • Knowing what needs to be started next & bringing it to the planning group’s attention
  • Compiling & sending out monthly planning group agendas

As you can see, some of these activities are absolutely necessary.  They need to happen for work to progress. An example of this would be maintaining our mailing list, email list, team members list, volunteer lists, etc. Others would be “helpful to have” but we can get by until we get someone to take it on. For example, setting up an information  distribution channel to the local business associations.

As I said before, this is a new system so we don’t yet know how well it will turn out in the long-run. So far though, being able to “chunk” tasks into discrete pieces and match them to volunteers’ skills and preferences is working out for us. The person who tracks the volunteer hours does not have to be the same person who follows up with people who have been to Village 101 presentations to get their reactions and try to get them involved. Both are important, but require different skills and take different amounts of time to accomplish.

I truly believe that it takes a village to build a Village. But I guess, like in a real village, everyone doesn’t have the same job.  Figuring out the right niche for people is a critical part of Village development and of ongoing Village operations.  So, well worth the effort it takes to learn how to do it well.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Figure Out Why

As a planning group, we have been working on the Eastside Village PDX  since last summer. And although all major decisions are made by the entire 20+ member group (i.e. Village name, geographic boundaries, age for members), we quickly decided to divide into committees in order to have a way to meet and work in small groups.

Members chose the committee they wanted to work on, based on the objectives that were listed as the responsibility for each of the committees. For example, the Programs & Services Committee was responsible for researching services for seniors already being delivered within the Village’s service area, and also for developing, distributing and analyzing the results of a community needs assessment survey.  The Business & Revenue Committee was charged with developing a draft operating budget for the Village’s first 3 years and writing the business plan.  The Outreach Committee was responsible for developing a Speakers’ Bureau and a very long list of other PR and marketing tasks, and the Fundraising Committee had the tasks of writing grants and managing our fundraising events & campaigns.

In some cases this structure worked admirably. We got the first grant we applied for and raised some money through an end-of-year campaign. We set up a Speakers Bureau and got some publicity in local papers.  We developed a preliminary operating budget and have almost completed the first draft on the business plan.  All good things. All progress.

But overall, there were problems with this structure.  People had to sit on too many committees and go to too many meetings, it was too hard for the coordinating team to oversee, and it was difficult for some people to find the right fit for themselves, especially the “behind-the-scenes” people (aka the introverts).

We learned that fit was a problem when the committee working on the survey ran into a wall.  As long as the committee’s activities were confined to researching surveys from other Villages and deciding what items to include in our own, everything was copacetic and the committee members were all happy campers. But as soon as the second phase came into play—developing and setting up the distribution plan for the survey–all forward movement came to an erupt stop.  Why? Because setting up a distribution plan requires OUTREACH.  You actually have to email, call and meet with community organizations, businesses, churches, and senior centers to ask them if they will help get the survey out to their customers/members.  You don’t just get to stay behind the scenes in your small group and do research.

I admit to being dumbfounded when this happened. After all, setting up a distribution plan had been part of this committee’s to-do list from the start.  How did these people think that was going to happen if they didn’t do outreach?  The answer: They had convinced themselves that  the OUTREACH Committee was going to do it for them.  So, when they learned this wasn’t the case, they didn’t know what to do except protest, drag their feet, and ultimately quit.

To be fair, some of the less introverted members of the committee admirably rose to the challenge and started doing survey outreach.  But for the die-hard introverts, being asked to do outreach–even as part of a team, even with someone else accompanying them, even for their own project–was just too difficult.  And unfortunately, despite offering to take them off the survey team and find behind the scenes work for them, several of them still left, which was very sad.

In many ways, this was the first real crisis the coordinating team has faced and it motivated us to do a lot of analysis to try to figure out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. One of the outcomes is that from now on we will be much more careful to match volunteers with tasks that fit their temperaments.  We have also discarded our committee structure and re-divided our work into projects and ongoing activities, which gives volunteers much more control over what they do and how public they need to be.    But enough for today.  I’ll share detailed information about our new organizational structure in my next blog post.