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Seniors Want to Stay Home

A recent AARP survey found that, for adults over the age of 65, 88% indicated that they would prefer to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. As the aging-in-place movement continues to grow, new alternatives to nursing home or assisted living arrangements make remaining in the community a more feasible option for many older adults.

One alternative that is becoming popular is the “senior village” model of community living. The village is typically a grassroots organization that helps coordinate daily living, social, and recreational activities for seniors in the area. For an annual fee, participants can receive discounted services or work with volunteers to obtain needed services at home.

The scope of what assistance can be provided is only limited by one’s imagination. In one D.C.-area village, Mount Vernon at Home, residents receive help with anything from caulking windows to changing an overhead light. Nationally, frequently offered senior services include transportation, educational activities, wellness programs, cultural activities, errand running, and even care management. Innovative village programs offer a variety of groups for members to join, from opera clubs to caregiver support groups.

The first known senior village opened in 2002 in Boston, and the number has grown to over a 100, with dozens in development around the country. The Village to Village Network serves as an umbrella organization, providing development toolkits and other resources to members.

There is no one-size-fits-all template for Villages. Four common models include:

  • Grassroots organization –The most common business model is a non-profit, stand-alone organization that utilizes both paid staff and volunteers.

  • Use of parent organization – Aging or social service organizations may expand their outreach by providing start-up and oversight of a senior Village. The parent organization typically services as a fiscal agent and provides various support services.

  • Hub and spoke – In this model, the hub may be an already established Village, a parent organization, or a non-profit organization that provides support and oversight for several emerging Villages. While each Village would independently deliver services and maintain its own governing council, the hub organization would provide consistent administrative functions for all participating Villages. In nearby Marin County, Marin Village is an example of a centralized hub that provides support for Villages throughout the entire county.

  • Time bank/reciprocity model – This service delivery model is based upon neighbors exchanging their resources and talents for time instead of money. While volunteerism may be part of any model, in a time bank approach, the service recipients are also the volunteers, as members “swap” services based on time spent rather than a service rate. For example, one member may trade an hour of dog walking for an hour of a neighbor helping out in the garden. Members may donate unused “time dollars” to a community pool. In San Diego, Tierrasanta Village operates a time bank for members.

Regardless of the model, most Villages follow many of the same core principles:

  • Strong member involvement

  • Service consolidation or a concierge approach to needed services

  • Commitment to members being able to remain in their own homes

  • Holistic focus on member needs – social, health, educational, cultural, etc.

  • Self-sustainability

For older adults who wish to live in their own homes and communities but do not have relatives nearby or a strong social network, a Village approach to community living may be an ideal solution. As the number of Villages continues to grow, it won’t be long before seniors in most urban areas – and many rural ones – will have access to this innovative resource.

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