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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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.

What’s in a name? When is a “Village” not a village?

Once upon a time, a village was just a small city.  Nothing fancy. Larger than a hamlet, but smaller than a town. But then the real estate developers got hold of the term and started cranking out “Tanesbourne Village” and “Village by the Sea” to refer to planned real estate developments—–many of them retirement communities. So now you can hardly say the word “village” without people thinking you’re talking about a man-made, mortar and bricks real estate project.

That not what we mean when we talk about Eastside Village PDX or the national Village movement.    In our parlance, a “Village” is not a real estate development or a retirement community.    Rather, it is a group of like-minded people living in the same geographic area who have come together to figure out and develop the resources they need to age comfortably in their own homes.

No new facility gets constructed. Village members continue to live in their own homes and can be homeowners, renters, seniors sharing housing or living with relatives.  What they all have in common is that their homes are located somewhere within the geographic boundaries/service delivery area of the Village (but rarely adjacent) and they have all chosen to join the Village in order to have a cost-effective way of being able to age-in-community.

What does get “built” is (1) a supportive and caring community and (2) a structured network of support whose purpose if to enable Village members to successfully age-in-place.  Villages do this by providing the help people need to be able to age in place, but can no longer safely do themselves.   Examples include: climbing on ladders to change a light bulb, doing yard work, driving at night, spring cleaning, simple home repairs, transportation to & assistance with grocery shopping.

The first Village—Beacon Hill Village in Boston—began a decade ago when 12 older adults joined forces to create a way for them to age at home and remain independent as long as possible.  There are now over 90 Villages nationwide with over 120 more in development.  Most Villages nationwide are organized into self-governing, nonprofit membership organizations run by a Board of Directors elected by the Village members. They support themselves by a combination of fees, grants and fundraising.

 About Village Services: 

  •  Villages tend to be “volunteer first,” which means that they preferentially uses volunteers to deliver services
  • Villages provide “one call does it all” support & problem solving for their members
  • Villages do not duplicate existing services. They make it their business to know everything being offered by other nonprofits, senior centers, government agencies, how to utilize and where there are service gaps
  • Volunteers provide most of the transportation, shopping, household chores, gardening, and light home repairs & maintenance for members.
  • Villages also build relationships and develop community through social activities including potluck dinners, book clubs, exercise/wellness activities, and educational programs.
  • Carefully chosen vendors provide professional home repairs, usually at a discounted rate of 20-50% for members
  • Carefully chosen institutional & business partners provide home health care services (when/if needed), usually at discounted rates of 20-40%

Villages are networks of support that foster successful interdependent aging in community.  They are neighbor helping neighbor. And, for the 89% of older adults who preferentially want to age in their own homes in the neighborhoods they know and love, they can be the answer to their prayers.

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.

What is “Aging in Place”?

My friends and I talk a lot about “aging in place” and how we hope to do it.  But I realize that some of my readers may not know what the phrase “aging in place” means.

I recently came across a great definition of “aging in place” from the Aging in Place online magazine and thought I would share it:

Aging in Place is the concept that you can (and should be able to) stay in your residence and current living location for the remainder of your life, regardless of changes to your physical, cognitive, or other changes to your body and abilities that may occur with age.

Aging in Place is a choice. Deciding you wish to age in place means you are choosing how you want to spend your retirement years, how you want your home to be set up, what your health care choices will be, which types of assistance are right for you, and what your wishes are for major life events such as sickness, housing transitions, and financial decisions.

Making these choices gives you control over your independence, quality of life and dignity. Most importantly to note, aging in place does not mean you have to do everything yourself; that’s where the plan comes in. It means you get to plan how your needs are met, who meets them and when.”

via What is “Aging in Place”? | Aging In Place | Options LLC – Online Magazine for Baby Boomers and Seniors.

I am particularly taken with two points made in the last paragraph: (1) it doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself, and (2) it involves a plan.  Because, in a nutshell,  that’s what the village movement is about.  With a village, there is a plan for how people can age in place, as well as help with tasks they can no longer do for themselves. And that plan was crafted by the village residents themselves—so it’s their plan,  the one that works for them. Not some generic plan imposed from the outside.

My husband and I are meeting next Monday with one of the founders of a successful village on the east coast. We are eager to learn how they started their village—how they got the word out , what their first meetings were like, what steps they took to get it going.  We are curious how her village is structured and how it works for the people who live in it.   We are hoping there will be many ideas we can borrow, since there’s no need to reinvent the wheel if we don’t have to.  At the same time, we know that our village, the one our neighborhood will ultimately design, will need to be what works for us.  Our plan for our place to address our needs.  I wonder what that will turn out to be?