Coming Home for Elders May Take a Village

Article excerpt

As we age, the comfort and security of home becomes even more significant. Research repeatedly reveals that most Americans prefer to remain in their own homes through retirement and older age: There really is "no place like home."

But people's needs evolve with age. Elders, especially those with chronic medical conditions or disabilities, require a robust support system that can provide access to a cornucopia of needs- from the basics of buying food and getting to medical appointments, to finding a handyman to fix that broken screen door.

Enter the Village Movement

Kicking off the 2011 Aging in America Conference on April 26, the American Society on Aging offered a daylong session, "The Village Movement: A Model for Building Supportive Communities for Older Adults," co-sponsored by the Archstone and SCAN foundations.

University of California, Berkeley, professor Andrew Sharlach and Susan Poor, senior policy advisor with NCB Capital Impact, moderated the workshop, which featured a panel of experts discussing the Village Movement concept; its model application in California; how to create partnerships to support innovative community models, including joining with CCRCs and how to boost volunteerism; plus challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

In his overview of the Village concept, Sharlach cited the Village to Village Network website definition, "Villages are self-governing, grassroots, communitybased organizations, developed with the sole purpose of enabling people to remain in their own homes."

But Villages have a purpose beyond that, he said: "Villages are not just about staying home, but staying in community." The model is a vital addition to the aging services network, and can "improve service access, build community and enhance elders' functioning, quality of life and overall capacity."

The first Village, started in 2000 in the Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood, was born of older community members' wish to age at home- with access to supports and services needed to live in comfort, safety and security (www. beaconhillvillage.org).

The concept has grown to include as many variations on community as there are people who live in them (such as Washington-based Fiercely Independent Elders, highlighted in the May- June 2010 issue of Aging Today). Each community is different, consumer-driven and empowered by a unique intent, which drives services and structure.

Whatever their structure and means of support, villages are "definitely grassroots organizations...and there is no one set business model. They reflect the kind of support available and the membership itself," said Poor. …