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.

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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

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

Baby Boomers Like Discounts – Just Not the “Senior Discount”

What’s in a name?  Well apparently, if you’re a boomer and the name is “senior,” quite a lot:

“A Hartford Courant columnist recently covered the odd phenomenon, in which Baby Boomers are torn between wanting a discount for their seniority in the population and refusing to admit to senior status:

“There is definitely a different mindset between boomers and the World War II generations and the language you use encapsulates everything,” says Jo Ann Ewing, senior services coordinator for the town [of East Hampton, CT]. “Many individuals in their 70s and 80s are fine with ‘senior’ status and senior savings, while baby boomers mostly are not.”

The solution, from a business point of view, may be a silly game of semantics. Restaurants, associations, and various businesses often replace the phrase “senior discount” with something less overtly age-based, so as not to turn off the lucrative boomer customer base. The AARP welcomes “members” (not “seniors”) starting at age 50, and all the perks are referred to as “member benefits,” not senior benefits or senior discounts. The word “senior” never pops up in the list of discounts at the boomer-specialty site StageofLife.com either.

Marketing to boomers — a generation sometimes criticized as being vain and self-involved — can be tricky business, especially when the products and services at hand are clearly intended for people struggling with the aging process. Businessweek pointed out that contractors expect that the renovating of Baby Boomers’ homes will be a huge business going forward, with boomers increasingly in need of “age-appropriate remodeling” ranging from toilet grab bars to elevators. But contractors must be very careful how they propose such projects.”

via Baby Boomers Like Discounts – Just Not the ‘Senior Discount’ | Moneyland | TIME.com.

I wish this was just a “You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to” scenario.  But I fear it is more closely related to a quote a friend sent me the other day which says: “The Boomers are going to be 100 before they admit to being 50.”

Denying we are aging and continuing to assert we have little to do with “seniors” will not serve us.  Nor will playing semantic games with labels.  Instead, we Boomers need to accept that we are growing older and decide to do it mindfully, intentionally and gracefully—-using our creativity to design the best possible environments in which to age, rather than to make believe we’ll be forever young.   If we can do that, then a Boomer by any other name—even “senior”—will be aging well.