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.

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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.

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.

Let Them Eat Cake!

We only recently started doing “Village 101” informational presentations in public venues. Before then, all 20+  “parlor meetings”—-which is what we originally called them—-were held in our living room, which is a much warmer, cozier space than our neighborhood association’s community room or the meeting room in the local library.

People liked coming to our house and we liked having them.  It felt more like having friends over for a cup of tea and a talk than a presentation. And since our living room can easily hold 15 people, crowd size wasn’t a problem.

Unfortunately, our house is not sufficiently accessible (yet) to function as a long-term presentation site.  So convenient, low-cost accessible public spaces needed to be found. At the same time, we went from having one presenter—-me—-to recruiting and training five other members of the planning group to share the presentation load. So I not only had to give up the comforts of my living room, I also had to entrust MY presentation to five other people who each have their own delivery styles.

We started out working in teams of two, so no one had to handle an entire presentation by themselves. Not a bad idea, but not entirely successful either—-and figuring out how to divide up the material and who was going to say what was a challenge.  Probably the most difficult for the new presenters was answering questions from the crowd.   Most difficult for me was standing in the back of the room and keeping my mouth shut unless asked to speak.  Not a role I am used to, but a critical one to learn.

We’ve done 5 public presentations so far and have scheduled another 8 over the next few months.  Some of the presenters are ready to go “solo,” with just a helper in the back to greet and help pass out handouts.  Others have decided to continue in teams.  I don’t think that one way is better or more effective than the other, and the feedback we’ve gotten from attendees supports that.

What does matter is the cake.  Good cake, homemade cake, cake made with love.  Not store-bought cake or boxed cookies.  Because when you start with cake, it’s almost like being in somebody’s home.

We learned this at our fourth public presentation.  The first three times we presented, we offered a lovely assortment of several different kinds of high-end, store-bought cookies. We practically had to beg people to eat them. They added absolutely nothing to the presentation’s ambiance and made me sadder than ever that I couldn’t serve wine.

But the night of the fourth presentation, I realized I had forgotten to buy cookies.  So I packed along an apple pecan sheet cake, which I had baked earlier that day.  Since it was rather sticky,  I cut and plated it before people came in, so all they had to do was pick-up a piece on the way to their seats.  The result was magic.

Everyone ate cake; some people more than one piece.  People asked if I had baked the cake and were happily surprised that I had. Some people asked for the recipe. Everyone smiled and looked content.  It was a great way to start the presentation. It set just the right “village” tone.

This next round of presentations we’re adding Powerpoint slides and a short video to the mix. We think it will make it even more interesting.  But no matter what technical improvements we make, we’re keeping the cake.    Why mess with success?

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.