- Written by Lynne Feldman, Director of Community Services, LifePath
- Published: 16 August 2019
The vast majority of seniors in Western Mass want to “age in place,” or continue living in their homes and communities for as long as possible, even if their abilities to maintain their homes and lifestyles decrease over time. For example, home upkeep, running errands, and working with home technology can all become harder as we age. Some people worry that not being able to manage these tasks will mean they will have to move in with a relative or move into assisted living or a nursing home. But, many of these simple tasks can easily be accomplished by family, friends, and neighbors who have extra time to help, as long as there is a way to connect them safely and conveniently.
In response to this need, people in several local towns have stepped forward to create programs that can help town residents age in place. Called “Villages” after the Beacon Hill Village in Boston, which was the first program to try this model, these programs create networks of volunteers who can go to neighbors’ homes and complete tasks such as cleaning gutters or installing air conditioners; setting up a new computer and email account to stay in touch with loved ones; or driving residents to errands, appointments, or social events. Some people have called Villages “virtual retirement communities.” The programs recruit volunteers to be on standby to help when needed. Someone needing help can enroll as a member and access the volunteers’ time. Villages usually have a phone number to call, and a call manager who takes the request for help from the member and assigns a volunteer from the local network able to help with the task. If they can’t help with a particular need, they will refer the person to LifePath, a trusted professional, or other resources.
Villages usually have a phone number to call, and a call manager who takes the request for help from the member and assigns a volunteer from the local network able to help with the task.
Some Villages charge a membership fee while others do not and instead fundraise to cover program costs. Villages that do charge a fee often offer waivers for those who are not able to pay. Some Villages in larger towns and cities have paid staff, but the Villages in our area are strictly volunteer organizations, with any fees or fundraising going to pay for insurance, computers and phones, printing brochures, and other costs. In many Villages, residents can be both members and volunteers, depending on their abilities and needs.
The benefits of formalizing help networks under a Village model are that the volunteers can be protected by the Village’s liability insurance; the Village can check volunteers’ and members’ criminal records for safety; and members can get help when and where needed, without “asking for favors;” members can sometimes get discounts on professional services; members and volunteers can make new social connections; and more. Villages can be designed according to the needs of individual towns or groups of towns, for and by its residents. These features make neighbors helping neighbors easier, safer, more affordable, and more likely to happen on a regular basis.
There are more than 300 Villages in development or providing services, mostly in the US but in other countries as well. The “Village Movement” has also arrived and is thriving in Franklin County and the North Quabbin. The first program to go live last October was Village Neighbors, serving Leverett, Shutesbury, Wendell, and New Salem. Village Neighbors volunteers help members by providing transportation, helping hands for small tasks at home, friendly visits and computer help. There is a fee to enroll as a member, but a waiver is available if needed. Village Neighbors welcomes new members and volunteers. Call 413-345-6894 for more information, or visit www.villageneighbors.org.
Northfield’s Village just recently opened its doors. Neighbors at Home: the Northfield Village offers vetted service providers, discounted services, and links to needed programs and services with one phone call. Neighbors at Home is seeking members and volunteers. For more information, call 413-225-1029 or visit neighborsathome.org.
LifePath maintains a mailing list of those working on Village projects in the area. If you are interested in learning whether there is a group in your town, or would like to start one if there is none, please call us at 413-773-5555 x2215. Vtvnetwork.org is the standard resource on the Village Model and is a great starting point also.
By taking the lead in creating aging in place programs in their towns, residents are helping to ensure the safe and happy living of their neighbors and all of us as we age.