“With a little help from our friends”: The Village movement

"With a little help from our friends": The Village movement

Aging in place has great appeal and can be challenging and expensive. Elders who are part of a “Village” help each other with simple tasks, making it easier and more financially feasible to stay at home. Today, there are close to 250 Villages across the country. They are part of a widespread grassroots movement of like-minded elders focused on community building and elder empowerment. This is not just another social service.

The basic model is neighbors helping neighbors. Members of a Village help each other address chores such as transportation or shopping. Or even changing a light bulb or setting up a digital assistant device.

Sometimes there’s a collective give and take. For example, a blind member might get help with grocery shopping and then give back to the Village by leading a support group for other visually impaired members. Reciprocity is not required. But it is consistent with a general theme that everyone has value, a way to contribute. The model builds self-esteem.

Some Villages develop an information and referral service, circulating lists of reliable, senior-friendly contractors. To tackle loneliness and isolation, some Villages host educational or social events.

Each Village is different, depending on the needs of its members and its structure. Most Villages are nonprofit organizations. They charge a yearly membership fee to help pay for a director (fees range from $25 to $900/year). With the “we help each other” model, many of the events and services are free because they are donated by members.

The age of Village participants ranges from sixty to mid-eighties, with most in their mid-seventies. Some people join because of an immediate need. Younger members may have a “pay it forward” attitude. Others are involved because of the community and social contact. And some Villages do run out of energy and close.

Want to find a Village? Create a Village? There is a national Village-to-Village Network. It offers guidance for neighbors hoping to start their own grassroots group. You can find a map and the Village Toolkit at their website. Wonder what it’s like to be a member of a Village? Check out the Village Member Stories of the Seacoast Village in New Hampshire.

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