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.

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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.

Golden Girls Go Home: A Twin Cities organization touts the affordability — and fun — of shared housing arrangements

  While searching for more information about Golden Girls homes as a housing option, I came across this article about a Minneapolis organization that helps older single/divorced/widowed women find or create affordable shared housing.  Seems like something that would benefit “women of a certain age” from coast-to-coast, and not dissimilar to what Michele Fiasca is trying to do locally with her website “Let’s Share Housing Together.”

Anyway, here is the article for you to enjoy and hopefully be inspired by:

“The ’80s TV sitcom The Golden Girls  gave Connie Skillingstad a good idea: older women who live together. Skillingstad is founder of Golden Girl Homes, a group that helps older widows, divorcees, and otherwise single women find or create alternative, affordable shared housing.

‘Golden Girls is about helping open up the options for women,’ says Skillingstad.  Formed in 2001, the Twin Cities-based nonprofit is based on the  premise that older women want, need, and deserve more diverse housing options than senior housing facilities or solitary living. For many women it is not financially feasible to purchase and maintain a house on their own, and single living may leave them feeling lonely and disconnected.

‘A lot of women are interested in living in communities,’ says Skillingstad, a 59-year-old social worker. ‘The senior housing that’s being built by developers is too expensive, and many women don’t want to live in a senior housing complex.’

The Golden Girls solution is not so much matching up potential roommates as it is helping with the logistics of shared housing. To this end, the group, which includes about 200 women whose ages range from 40 into the 80s, meets monthly to discuss everything from the legal issues of these new-style households to the practicalities of living with people other than family. They are currently working to create a list of questions that potential roommates can ask each other to gauge their compatibility.”

via Golden Girls Go Home.

Golden Girls 2.0: Shared housing as a retirement strategy

I have a sister who is two years younger than me, who got divorced in her 30’s and has never remarried.  Although she still has an occasional beau, her girl friends are the mainstay of her life—there through thick and thin.  She currently lives alone in a 3 bedroom home, but she has always said that when she retires, she wants to live in a “Golden Girls home” like the characters on the TV show of that same name.  I think it’s a great idea and apparently I’m not alone, as this article from Reuters Money explains:

“Those Golden Girls may have been on to something. Alternative living arrangements — like the group house featured in the popular 80′s sitcom — are gaining steam among retired women, affording them a higher standard of living, in-home support services and companionship while aging in place.

Want to employ that personal chef you’ve always dreamed about? What about a pool and a view of the 18th hole? With women living at least five years longer than men on average, home sharing — which is dominated by women — helps them maintain or even elevate the quality of life in retirement.

Homesharing allows participants to continue a certain kind of lifestyle that they may not be able to afford when they are out of the workforce, single or widowed. That’s really the most compelling reason to share a home, but companionship is a big draw, says Nancy Thompson, AARP spokesperson. “It’s nice to have company, to remark about something to someone, or to share your interests,” she says.

“I’ve often said I wanted to live like the Golden Girls,” says Marianne Kilkenny, home share advocate and founder of Women for Living in Community. Kilkenny, 61, shares an Ashville, North Carolina home with four other renters — two women and a married couple — ranging in age from 58 to 71. “For boomer women, we’re the first generation that has had the financial means to be able to live on our own for any length of time and are finding that it gets really old because you have to count only on yourself,” she says.

A sense of belonging and peace of mind is integral, says Kilkenny, adding shared housing has allowed her to live in a nicer home with better appliances in a swankier neighborhood. “One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night,” she says, quoting Margaret Mead. “For those of us who have been single, these are the things you don’t know you are missing.”

In 2010, there were approximately 480,000 baby boomer women living with at least one female non-relative roommate and no spouses, according to an AARP analysis of population survey data. That’s approximately 130,000 Golden-Girl type households across the country.

via Golden Girls 2.0: Shared housing as a retirement strategy | Reuters Money.

Here in Portland, if you’re a mature adult and you  want to find equally mature—and compatible—housemates,  the person to contact is Michele at Let’s Share Housing Together (www.letssharehousing.com/) who will help you make the perfect match.  And who knows? If they decide to re-make the Golden Girls, they may just come and cast you!

Making a Village: steps along the way

We had our second parlor meeting for the VillagePDX project on Sunday.  Again, an awesome group of smart, thoughtful people showed up, full of questions, good suggestions and offers of help.

One of the offers was to help “formalize/standardize” the parlor meeting presentation I’ve been giving so other people could also present it.  I think this is a grand idea and am excited to have help developing it.   So thank you in advance!

It was requested that I put the initial steps to “Making a Village” (which were listed on the white board we use for the presentation) on this blog.  The steps are nothing you wouldn’t expect if you thought the process through and the order is flexible. But here they are:

Making a Village
(initial steps)

  • Hold informational meetings and get the word out.
  • Develop informational handouts.
  • Identify ways volunteers can help support the project and enlist their help.
  • Assemble a task force/core team that is committed to this vision and can put their energy toward its manifestation for 2-3 years.
  • Research existing villages across the country and study different village models.
  • Define the village’s geographic boundaries (may be adjusted later).
  • Identify strategic partners and make strategic partnerships.
  • Line up pro bono professional services.
  • Arrange for a fiscal sponsor and raise seed money.
  • Find a “home” and meeting places.
  • Develop a mission statement.
  • Set village goals.
  • Name the village.
  • Research and develop a community profile.
  • Design, administer and analyze a community survey/needs assessment.
  • Develop a workable model for this specific village.
  • Define the target audiences.
  • Define the scope of services.
  • Set membership fees.
  • Develop a business plan.
  • Elect a Board of Directors.
  • Establish the village as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
  • Develop & produce promotional materials.
  • Publicize the village.
  • Recruit members and additional supporters.
  • Fundraise!!!

Lastly, if you are interested in attending one of the Village PDX parlor meetings, we still have some space in the meetings on Sunday April 22 at 3pm and Thursday May 3 at 7pm.  Just email info@villagepdx.org to reserve your place.

Trying to Figure Out the Size and Boundaries for a Portland Village: What’s “Just Right”?

Last night was the first parlor meeting for the Village PDX  project.   Seven smart, interesting, inquisitive folks showed up and we had a wonderful discussion with lots of insightful comments and questions.   So a great way to kick-off the first of 5 parlor meetings happening over the next 3 weeks.  The parlor meetings on 4/15 and 4/19 are already full, but if you’re interested in attending either the Sunday 4/22 at 3pm or Thursday 5/3 at 7pm parlor meetings, there’s still some space. Just email us at info@villagepdx.org to RSVP and get directions.

One of the questions that comes up the most wherever we talk about the village project is some variation on “How big will the village be?” and “Will there be more than one village in Portland?” and “How do you decide where the village boundaries should be?”

We know from talking to the founders of some of the existing villages on the East Coast that they have been expanding their villages’ boundaries to include surrounding neighborhoods/ townships.  But I don’t know how to apply that information to thinking about villages here in Portland.

Next Monday, we will be talking to one of the founders of the NEST village in Seattle, which just opened earlier this year. So that got me thinking, maybe they have something on the NEST website about how they decided about their boundaries that would help me explain “village size/boundaries” better?   Here’s what I found:

Q: What neighborhoods are included in NEST?

A: The boundaries are the ship canal north to NE 110th, and I-5 to Lake Washington.  This includes the Bryant, Hawthorne Hills, Inverness, Laurelhurst, Maple Leaf, Matthews Beach, Meadowbrook, Ravenna, Roosevelt, Sandpoint, University District, View Ridge, Wedgwood, and Windermere neighborhoods. [14 total]

Q: Why not include all of Seattle?

A: The richness of the village concept is that it is rooted in a given geographic area and engages residents of all ages to volunteer in their neighborhood.  If the area is too large, the power of building neighborly connections is lost.  We hope that NEST can inspire other areas of Seattle to develop their own village and we could work collaboratively to build a supportive network.  Currently, there is discussion at the Phinney Neighborhood Center (NW Seattle) and on Bainbridge Island about starting such villages.

via NEST faq.

So, the long and the short of it seems to be: “The richness of the village concept is that it is rooted in a given geographic area and engages residents of all ages to volunteer in their neighborhood.  If the area is too large, the power of building neighborly connections is lost. ”  On the other hand, as we have learned from our talks with some of the village founders, if the geographic area is too small, there  may not be enough interested residents to join the village and keep it going.  Which makes this all sound more than a little like Goldilock’s search for the “just right” sized bed.

I know there are approximately12,000 residents aged 65-plus in the section of Seattle that will be served by the NEST village.  So population may be one way to look at it.  I also know that existing resources for seniors available in the area factor in.  Maybe printing out  a map of Seattle so I can see how much of the city the NEST village will encompass would help?

If you have suggestions about how to think about this–or explain it better—please let me know!

Most Americans Want a Walkable Neighborhood, Not a Big House

“The symbol of American success often involves having the biggest house possible, but our outsized fantasies seem to be shifting. According to a new survey, more than three quarters of us consider having sidewalks and places to take a walk one of our top priorities when deciding where to live. Six in 10 people also said they would sacrifice a bigger house to live in a neighborhood that featured a mix of houses, stores, and businesses within an easy walk.”

via Most Americans Want a Walkable Neighborhood, Not a Big House – Lifestyle – GOOD.

Does this mean the end of the suburbs and 7000 sq ft McMansions?  Or at least re-purposing them?  One of my realtor friends has a dream of turning the McMansions in a suburb of Portland into a kind of senior co-housing.  But I am not clear how that would address the proximity to stores and other walkability issues.

For those of us who are already thinking about aging-in-place villages in urban neighborhoods, these findings make perfect sense.  Being in a resource-rich community you can get around in without a car is good planning, since as we age many of us will reach the point where driving is no longer an option.  Not to mention, who wants to clean 7000 sq. ft?