I’d heard so many jokes about getting old, life going downhill, and then, well, we all know the end of that story. Probably, I’d begin to believe these tales, though my life as a senior was fine. Not much to complain about. Then I began to hear about the village concept through articles in AARP, newspapers and a program on NPR about a neighbor-to-neighbor approach that started in Boston early in this century. I talked with friends about the idea, especially Judie Donaldson. We wondered if there would be interest in a village here in Benicia that would provide support to senior citizens.
Addressing the needs of seniors is an important issue, especially with baby boomers continuing to retire in large numbers. How will aging adults get rides to the doctor, or help with their computer or smart phone? With many seniors living alone, isolation can be a problem. It would be nice to have somewhere to go and see friends, or occasionally get a call, with someone asking, “How are you doing?” The virtual village model began in Boston in 2001 to address the issues of aging in place. Since then, 180 “villages” have been established across the country and about that many more are, like Benicia’s Carquinez Village Project, in the process of formation. These organizations connect, support, and inspire older people.
At the feasibility stage, we studied services already available and what others were needed. We talked to service organizations, took surveys, held monthly meetings—the third Thursday of every month at 10:30am at the Benicia Library—and began fundraising. We used the tools available to us. Online, the Village-to-Village Network allows us to learn about other villages. We’ve also been in touch with such groups in the Bay Area. One Solano source we became familiar with is Faith in Action, an organization that has been serving seniors for 18 years. FIA has no affiliation with any church. We needed tax deductible contributions, and rather than becoming a nonprofit corporation, we made an agreement with FIA. FIA would be our fiscal sponsor and we will take advantage of their tax-deductible status without having to go through the application process ourselves. Two questions are frequently asked: What area will we serve, and how much will it cost? We are based in Benicia, that’s where our programs are held, so there’s probably more benefit for Benicians, but membership is also open to Vallejo residents.
When we become a village in the first quarter of 2017, the cost will be about $350 a year for one person, $525 for a couple. Why would anyone pay that amount? One person thought of it as insurance—something you don’t need on the day you buy it, but could well need farther along. Another said, “Every day that I’m living at home, I’m not paying the cost of a retirement home or assisted living facility.” While every village is different, here are some basics for the CVP. We’ll have a portfolio of programs and services that are likely to include a ride when you need one, someone to talk to when you have a problem or feel isolated, help with grocery shopping, technology problems or simple household chores; programs that entertain and educate, and referrals for services such as a handyman or someone to clean your home.
We’ll team with Faith in Action for services and training already in place. Services will be provided by our volunteers, and businesses and organizations can consider donating to cover the cost of services for low-income seniors. Groups like ours have learned that connecting with others is perhaps the greatest need that seniors face as they age. We plan to help seniors live better by providing connections, support and inspiration.
At a recent Dynamic Aging Conference, a Kaiser doctor talked about the advantages of being older. For one thing, most of us have acquired some wisdom through the years. He showed a chart, which demonstrated that while people between 40 and 70 make the best decisions, “People who are 80 still make better choices than 20 year olds.” Other advantages of aging can include a reduction in stress, and clarity as to what is important in life. And that’s not so bad!