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.

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.

What Needs to Happen Before the Launch of Direct Services to Members

When doing “Village 101” presentations, we tell people that we are hoping to launch direct services to Eastside Village members in the Fall of 2014.  Since that’s over 18 months away, it’s important for us to also explain all the things that need to happen before we can launch—both so people understand why we’re not starting these services sooner and so they know what we need their help with (financially and otherwise) to get Eastside Village off the ground.

As you can see from the list below, there’s a lot to do and a lot of ways to be involved.  We’re fond of saying, “It takes a Village to age-in-place.”   It seems to be equally true that “It takes a village to make a Village.”

So, here’s what’s on our agenda for the next 18 months:

  • Widely publicize the Village throughout each of the neighborhoods in our service area.
  • Build a community of volunteers to plan and execute all activities leading up to launch.
  • Survey residents of our service area (May 2013) and analyze the results to determine the Village’s programs & services.
  • Develop and host social activities & educational programs for potential members & volunteers throughout the next 18 months. (We’re actually going to launch the Village in stages, with these pieces happening first)
  • Recruit members of the founding Board of Directors, write & adopt bylaws, and finalize the organization’s governance structure.
  • Write the Village’s business plan.
  • Raise funds needed to cover all pre-service launch and start-up expenses (including any costs needed to hold fundraising events).
  • Raise one year’s operating expenses to have in reserve.
  • Write volunteer training manual and organizational policies & procedures manual.
  • Recruit & train volunteers to deliver services post-launch.
  • Complete research of all organizations currently delivering services to seniors and people with disabilities inside our service area.
  • Vet vendors to deliver services post-launch & negotiate members’ discount with them.
  • Negotiate relationships & discounts with strategic partners (i.e. homecare providers).
  • Recruit members.
  • Rent affordable office space and put in place office technology.
  • Hire Executive Director and Volunteer Coordinator.
  • Widely publicize launch

Obviously, this isn’t everything that needs doing, but it’s more than enough detail for people who are attending “Village 101” presentations.  Anything more and it just becomes overwhelming—which is definitely NOT recommended as a volunteer recruiting strategy!

Why Did You Draw the Line THERE? The Problems with Village Boundaries

Our planning group recently sent out an email announcing the Eastside Village, PDX project and inviting people to come to a “Village 101” informational presentation to learn more about it.  One of the pieces of information included in the email was the boundaries of the area that will be served by Eastside Village, PDX.

Since the announcement went to everyone on our email list regardless of where they live, we knew that some of the people receiving it would be outside the Eastside Village boundaries.   But what we didn’t anticipate was the number of emails we would get from people living only slightly outside the boundaries wanting to know why we “drew the line” where we did.

Each of the emails pointed out that there were seniors living outside our boundaries who would benefit from Eastside Village services & support.  Each of the emails asked why we couldn’t just extend the boundaries a bit more.  And several of them pointed out how under-served their area is compared to some of the neighborhoods which are included in the Eastside Village service area.

We did our best to send back a thoughtful response to everyone who wrote.  We didn’t mention how emotionally difficult it is to set boundaries, knowing as you do that this will result in people who are inside the lines and people who are not, and that this is not a commentary on how much those on the outside  need the services or how deserving they are of having a Village in their neighborhood.  It’s about manageability—what the Village can reasonably address—-and about where the Village’s  founders happen to live.   Because whether you want to or not, in a city the size of Portland, you have to draw the lines somewhere.  The Portland metro area is too big to be served by a single village.  It would be unmanageable and ineffective.

It didn’t help, of course, that we would like to be able to help everyone and that we understand both how well considered and how relatively arbitrary the boundaries really are.  I suppose we could have said, “These are only ‘working boundaries’ so maybe we’ll decide to include your neighborhood further down the road.”  It’s not like that’s impossible.  A number of Villages across the country have expanded their boundaries to include more neighborhoods than they originally started with.  Of course, in most of those cases they started out too small and needed to expand in order to survive, which is not the case with Eastside Village, which is starting with a very large service area.  But it might happen….

What we did say instead was the following:

1. The village boundaries were set by vote of the entire planning group, after studying census numbers and considering “natural” and neighborhood boundaries.

2.  In the process of studying villages nationwide, we learned that about 10-12K seniors in an area is the right size for a urban village. So we chose an area that has that number of senior residents.

3. Grassroots villages are formed and run by people who live inside the Village’s boundaries. So, as you would expect, virtually all our planning group members live in one of the neighborhoods covered by Eastside Village, PDX and that helped determine where our boundaries fell.  For example, two of our planning group members live in the Mill Park neighborhood.  So that helped determine our Eastern boundary.  If they had lived in different neighborhoods, we would probably have settled on slightly different boundaries (while still shooting to achieve the 10-12K seniors number)

4. The street that is our south boundary is also the southern boundary for three of the neighborhoods that are part of Eastside Village, PDX.  So it is a natural ending point.  If we had extended to the next major boulevard south as you asked, we would have been able to include all of your neighborhood, but would have bisected two other neighborhoods—–who then might reasonably have asked us to extend even farther south so that all of their neighborhood would be included.

5.  In terms of need, there is as much argument to be made about the problems of cutting off a village at our eastern boundary as there is at our southern boundary, since there are many, many seniors in need living further east.  But you have to draw the boundaries somewhere.  Trying to put all of Portland’s east side into one village would be unmanageable and, in the long run, counter-productive.

6. We hope Eastside Village, PDX will be the FIRST village on Portland’s east side, but not the ONLY one. Some of us are very willing to help start a “sister” village to the south which would include your neighborhood.  But  in order to get that going  you need to find a few residents of your neighborhood (and surrounding neighborhoods) to host Village 101 informational parlor meetings.  Through those parlor meetings, you will attract a core group of people to make up your village’s founding team/planning group.  So find those people to host and we will be glad to come down, make a Village 101 presentation, and help get the ball rolling.

I don’t think what we said was unreasonable or unsympathetic.  I very much fear it wasn’t what any of the people who wrote wanted to hear.  It would have been easier if we just extended the boundaries.  It would have been easier if they didn’t have to build a planning group and mobilize their neighborhoods into action.  But since that’s precisely what every neighborhood has to do to build a Village in the first place, it’s a pretty good indicator of whether or not their area can develop and sustain a Village in the long run.