Villages allow seniors to retain independent living
By Lou Fancher
Senior citizens have found traction in the digital realm.
Coming of age in a wave reminiscent of the freedom-loving 1960s when many seniors were young adults exiting college, the 21st century "senior movement" finds its form in digital villages.
Village to Village, a national network of Internet-connected communities, allows people to "age in place," remaining in their homes and retaining their independence instead of moving to nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
Lamorinda Village is the newest grass-roots, membership-driven entry on the scene that began 10 years ago in Boston, with Beacon Hill Village. California boasts approximately 20 of the 150 V2V villages operating in the United States, Australia and the Netherlands, with more than 120 additional villages in development worldwide.
Launching itself on April 6 onto the growing list of custom-designed villages in the Bay Area, Lamorinda Village board president Ruth McCahan says the idea "sparked, then mushroomed."
"We gathered seven people in January 2012 to talk about it," McCahan says. She's lived in her Lafayette home since 1961. "Now, we have 96 members, over 50 volunteers, 15 trained drivers, and many service providers."
Newly minted executive director Anne Ornelas brings multiple assets to her role in the one paid staff position. With higher education degrees in psychology and organizational management, Ornelas has held positions with the American Society on Aging in San Francisco and other service organizations.
"We've achieved great numbers to start," Ornelas says. "The village is designed to meet members' needs."
Villages are peer-to-peer nonprofit organizations that deliver one-stop resources and services. Lamorinda Village serves people over age 55 in Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda. Memberships are structured and priced for options. "Full" members ($840/individuals, $1,200/two-person households) have access to screened service providers, Village-sponsored educational, social and cultural activities and volunteer assistance with transportation, home maintenance, meal preparation, computer assistance and more.
A half-price "social" membership includes all but the volunteer services ($300/individuals, $600/household). The sharing of information and requests for service are largely made online. There is a limited subsidized-fee program for low-income residents.
"We heard loud and clear that people need transportation, help with light household chores and recommendations for things like roofers and electricians," McCahan says. "For the not-ready-yets, who don't believe they need the services now, but will in the future, we've reached them. The people already isolated by their need are hardest to reach."
To address the problem, McCahan says several outreach programs are planned for the coming months and an email newsletter with updates is available online.
Former Moraga mayor and Town Council member Karen Mendonca serves on the Village board and says teaming up with Saint Mary's College, local libraries and John Muir will soon satisfy member-driven requests for social and educational activities. "There's excitement about having this in the community," she says.
Elaine Welch, executive director of Senior Helpline Services, is working in partnership with Ornelas and McCahan to finalize transportation plans.
"We consult with 11 villages," Welch says. "This is the first where we will be the transportation provider."
Welch's background as a geriatric nurse informs the training SHS provides for the drivers recruited by Lamorinda Village.
"They recruit, because we want neighbors driving neighbors and they know the community. We teach drivers how to lift people safely and other necessary skills."
Service providers and volunteers receive background checks and come recommended by the board or a committee task force. Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church is providing office space, and hosted the launch event at which more than one dozen providers offered information. Ornelas says in-home care services, garden and landscape companies, "downsizing" specialists, medical alert system operators, computer-assistance providers and other professional services were carefully selected to avoid duplicating anything already available through existing senior-support groups.
Betty LaPorte, 80, Lafayette, says she likes having a voice in the Village's formation.
"My mother lived until she was over 100 years old and stayed in her home," LaPorte says. "She's my role model."
Helen Gough, also an 80-year-old Lafayette resident, has volunteered to help with pet care, grocery shopping, and similar tasks.
"I plan to drive until I can no longer drive. I joined because I like having a social group my age, but not one in assisted living."
Retired physician Sanford Sherman, 84, has been in his Lafayette home since 1959. He says retaining independence is essential, but admits it's difficult to do the upkeep on a home. "And, you don't have to be old to be subject to fraud," he says. "I'm glad they'll develop reliable service providers and have a central office to call."