Creating a Village to age at home

In 2002, a group of Boston seniors decided to buck the trend of moving into retirement communities and instead founded the Beacon Hill Village—a member-driven non-profit that provides key services for aging in place to its members. Since then, almost 200 local Villages have been developed around the United States, each with a mission to help seniors stay in their homes by leveraging members and volunteers to provide support and resources to each other. That could mean anything from fixing a leaking faucet to giving someone a ride to the doctor to arranging a weekly social visit to someone who is homebound.

 Amy stopped by the office of one of these local Villages—Lamorinda Village, serving the communities of Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda, CA—to talk to its Board President, Jane Tiemann, and Executive Director, Anne Ornelas.

 Why do people join the Lamorinda Village?

Jane: There are probably as many reasons as there are members of the Village. I’m on the leading edge of the Baby Boomers, and people are realizing there aren’t going to be enough nursing homes and retirement communities for all of us—and people aren’t interested in that anyway. Many of us have emphasized healthy living and being active and our professional lives, and we’re looking for an alternative to what’s been a traditional pathway for old folks.

Lamorinda Village Executive Director Anne Ornelas and Board President Jane Tiemann chat outside the Village’s offices.

The other part is that particularly in communities like ours, our social networks revolve around the children. If you’re like me and went out to work full-time, you lose touch with that social network. Joining the Village was an opportunity to expand my group of friends.

What does the Village community look like? Is it mostly retired professionals?

Jane: My husband just joined the men’s group and he’s been amazed by the breadth and depth of experience in their working lives. It’s true of the women, too.

Anne: Yes, all of our members are retired from full-time work, for the most part. However, many continue to do volunteer work or have passions they dedicate their time to. I’ve met a lot of interesting women through this job. Many of them have degrees that they’ve put to use in other ways. It’s neat to learn about the experiences of the members and what they’ve accomplished. Our volunteers also come with a breadth of experience in their previous professional lives, or who enjoy working specifically with an older population.

Jane: There’s a cohort that’s older and wants to take advantage of the services. My husband and I are sort of paying it forward, doing the volunteer things but not necessarily taking advantage of the services until we’re ready to need them.

What motivates people to join?

Jane

Anne: We offer two levels of membership. Some people come in immediately needing the full level of service: the core of what we do. What’s requested most often is companionship, daily phone calls as a check-in, transportation, and a LOT of handymen requests. We have a great crew of handy guys who are just amazing and we get compliments on whatever they do, from repairing a mailbox that fell over to fixing a garbage disposal. Our volunteer handymen go above and beyond what I’ve asked and they’re the heart of what we are, I think.

Then there’s a social membership, where people join to get to know new people and go on outings and learn new things and often volunteer their time to the members who need more service. We do chair yoga twice a month, go out to the movies together, host monthly birthday socials…just stay connected and share talents.

Is there a “right time” to join a Village?

Anne: Now! We want people to be familiar with us and get to know the community so when they get to that critical point—when they need more help than they can arrange for themselves—we can help them through that transition. We had a member join last year who was a little bit reluctant and two months later her husband fell and we were ready to jump in and help them. She’s been thrilled to have the resource available to her—she didn’t have to worry about all the little things that he used to take care of. It’s best for people to become part of the network before there’s a crisis.

Anne

Jane: Some of our members compare joining the Village to purchasing an insurance policy—they know that they’ll be taken care of. One of the important things for people to realize is that we strive to provide peace of mind. If you’re a member and something traumatic happens, you know your first step is to call the Village and see what we can help you with. That takes a lot of stress away. When my husband had his hip replaced we had to get all this medical equipment, deal with him being immobile, and you could see how that could have been a lot worse. It gives people comfort to know they can find out about a lot of stuff for a lot of different problems.

Jane’s raising an interesting point, because she was there with her husband, and presumably healthy herself at the time. I imagine that there are members who are living alone and want to stay at home but don’t have the sort of “backup” that Jane could provide for her husband when he needed it.

Anne: Exactly. And we publish a list of the volunteer services we can help with, but the truth is that people call me for all sorts of things and I try to hunt down a solution, either through our volunteers or through a service referral.  One of the keystones of what we do is give people the choice to live at home. There’s a relief in calling the office when you’ve overwhelmed and knowing that we can take care of some of the legwork for you.

If you live in Lafayette, Moraga or Orinda and are interested in more information, call Anne at (925) 253-2300.

Outside of the area, click here to see if there is a Village near you.