Village Model Fills Seniors’ Aging in Place Needs

The United States is facing the issue of a rapidly aging population that some say it is not prepared for in terms of housing and care, prompting a grassroots organization to start an initiative that allows seniors to remain in their communities and age in place.

Beacon Hill Village sprouted up ten years ago, founded by local seniors who preferred staying at home and getting their needs met through their community as they aged, rather than going to alternatives such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

Since then, the concept has caught on in dozens of states, with 55 villages and another 120 in development connected under the umbrella of the Village to Village Network, launched in 2010. This network rose out of Beacon Hill’s partnership with NCB Capital Impact, a nonprofit investment organization that strives to provide access to long-term supports initiatives for seniors, among other programs.

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The villages typically have about 100 members and are generally small, non-profit, member driven organizations, usually run with just a few staff members and a lot of volunteers. , More than 90% of village members were aged 65 or older in 2010, and 87% owned their own homes, according to research from the University of California, Berkeley.

Each village compiles a list of trusted local service providers according to needs dictated by village members, and members pay entrance fees, which can range from $25 to $1200 a year with an average of $350, in order to have access to that list, along with other membership perks, including social events and activities.

As more and more villages spring up across the United States, some organizations besides NCB Capital Impact are recognizing the vital role they will play as a way for the nation’s seniors to age in place. For example, the Archstone Foundation, based in California, recently awarded $1.3 million in grants to villages throughout the state.

“We decided to fund villages, because we think they’re a new paradigm in how people could age in the community, which is people’s number one desire–to live at home,” Elyse Salend, a program officer at Archstone, told SHN. “We think villages provide a new model for doing that, that involves volunteering, community engages, and is consumer driven.”

Part of that grant money is going to NCB Capital Impact to provide technical assistance to villages supported by the foundation, while other grant monies go toward helping villages with training in business planning, marketing, sustaining growth and viability, creating and managing strategic partnerships, and designing member programs, services, and benefits.

The nation’s lack of preparation for the 10,000 baby boomers who are turning 65 each day is a pressing concern to those involved in the initiative.

“The states aren’t ready,” says Susan Poor, a senior policy advisor at NCB Capital Impact. “That’s not to say that there aren’t people thinking about [the aging population]; many are. But the challenges are enormous.”

States are having to look at what they can provide, and what they may no longer be able to provide, she continues, and how are they creatively going to come up with different ways of doing things?

“People are becoming aware of number of people aging at the same time,” says Poor. “Just because there are so many people, there’s a greater demand on the range of long-term support services. It’s going to take more than the government to handle that.”

And, she says, villages are able to fill in the gap where some traditional services can’t help people, particularly in non-hospital, community settings. The village structure gives people access to community information that allows them to stay local.

“It’s one number to call for their needs, and it brings that vital peace of not being left on your own to do things on your own,” says Poor.

When it comes to seniors’ needs that can’t be met by the ordinary community member, it’s important to have qualified providers available.

“Health and wellness and prevention tend to be the top of the core servies provided for information referral,” says Candace Baldwin, co-director of the Village to Village Network. “There are relationships with home health agencies and health care providers… If a village member needs a higher level of care at home, and is seeking a home care provider or personal aid attendant, they will typically have those types of service providers on thier vetted provider list.”

Villages typically enter into strategic alliances with businesses, which could range anywhere from contractors and financial planners to home health agencies and reverse mortgage lenders. Oftentimes, local businesses will offer their services at a discounted price for village members.

Written by Alyssa Gerace