We all want to be independent and in control of our lives for as long as possible—preferably until the day we die. But independence doesn’t always pan out; illness or injury can strike suddenly and make life alone impractical. And as our worlds shrink, living alone can start to feel lonely—and loneliness, researchers say, can kill.
But what about interdependence.
The village community model combines aging in place with the type of interdependent living that helps make aging alone for longer possible. It’s an innovative, DIY take on what life in traditional American villages used to offer—trusted relationships with neighbors and the wider community. A nonprofit, grassroots solution that’s governed by its members, Villages have become the way of life for thousands of urban and suburban seniors across the US.
Although the village model is designed for older adults, choosing to join a village is a vote in favor of intergenerational living. Not everyone wants to live in a large retirement community— sometimes referred to as an “old-age ghetto.” When you live in a village, you’re still part of your larger community, too.
“I see the village model as an opportunity to create a positive prototype for aging, an image that we’d want to live into,” says Kate Hoepke, executive director and a resident of San Francisco Village.
It Takes a Village
A village is first and foremost “a community that relies on the passion, talents, and expertise of the people in it,” Hoepke says.
In the village model, older members of a neighborhood or group of neighborhoods are linked with one another and with a network of volunteer and paid services. The members help each other. If you’re sick, other villagers will visit and bring you what you need—and vice versa. Service providers provide additional help. Need to see a doctor? A volunteer driver will take you. When your sink clogs, the ilvlage will send a trusted repair person who services all the village members. And social events keep you all connected.
There are over 300 villages now in the US and each is governed by a board of directors made up of members. Dues paid by members support paid staff—often a single coordinator—who aims to meet all the villagers’ needs by sourcing, screening and delivering services.
What a Village Provides Its Members
Besides the day to day neighborliness of village members, a typical village provides for the social, educational and day-to-day needs of members through a more formal structure administered by the village coordinator.
Social events might include game days, lunches and dinners, trips to museums and other places of interest, parties, taiko, meditation, and discussion groups based on members’ backgrounds and interests. And there are educational events: speakers, seminars, workshops and courses on a wide variety of topics.
The coordinator manages a vetted list of service providers and community partners to call when a villager needs help: home maintenance and repairs, technology help, health and wellness services, transportation, light housekeeping and shopping assistance. Service providers—from drivers to handymen—will often negotiate special prices when they’re contracted to work for an entire village.
There are also volunteer opportunities for members to help each other one-on-one, organize and lead a new activity or class, or become board members to help the overall operations.
Why Join a Village?
Village members range in age from their 50s through their 90s, and members can join at any age (some have a minimum age requirement of 50 or 55). Many join at in their 50s or 60s for the social aspects and to help the older members,…