They say it takes a village to raise a child, but the same principle applies to aging adults. Support villages are helping seniors build a tribe of people that can help them navigate life’s challenges and defer or avoid the need for costly assisted living and other institutional care.
The villages are membership organizations created by and for older adults, aimed at helping them live independently while staying in their neighborhoods. The villages typically arrange services for members: a ride to a doctor’s appointment, a home repair, or someone to change a light bulb. Some villages have paid staff and charge a fee to join, while others are all volunteer or non-profit.
According to the Village to Village Network, more than 56 villages exist in the United States, and another 120 are in development. They work in partnership with the nation’s Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) to share resources. The collaborations range from sharing information on resources for senior citizens to working together on village formation and start-up, programming, and capacity building.
Most of the villages me to we are formed by a group of volunteers and supported by private donations and membership fees. Some are intergenerational and provide services for both older adults and youth, while others focus exclusively on aging alone. The Village movement is a response to the growing need for senior care, and it offers one of the most promising options for how we might cope with the “Revolution Aging.”
But there are some challenges that the villages are facing. The first is that the communities are not very diverse, and most villages are overwhelmingly white, with three quarters of their members being college graduates and nine out of 10 living on a middle income. The villages are aware of this and actively trying to address it by offering reduced fees and seeking ways to reach a broader range of ages.
There is also a question of sustainability, as the typical village costs about $140,000 to run per year, and membership fees only cover about a third to a half of that figure. The rest needs to be raised through fundraising. Some villages are struggling financially, while others are doing better.
Still, the concept is working for many people. Michal Brown, a resident of Lincoln Park in Chicago, joined her mother Mary Haughey’s village in the spring of 2016. She is convinced it saved her from having to move her mom into assisted living. After Mary began getting dizzy in her tai chi class, the village’s buddy system helped her get to the hospital, where doctors discovered a blood clot that could have killed her. The village has given her daughter hope that they can keep Mary at home for years to come.