Boise could get 'villages' that support seniors' lives

A concept for helping older people stay in their homes is spreading, and some locals think it can work here.

Special to the Idaho StatesmanJune 17, 2013 

  • MEETING ON THE VILLAGE CONCEPT

    Tom LaPointe, director of My Own Home, a village in Moscow, Idaho, will lead a discussion and question-and-answer session following a presentation about the concept on Tuesday. Attendees will have an opportunity to form working groups to further explore creating one or more villages in Boise: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, at North Junior High School, 1105 N. 13th St., Boise.

Add 20 years to your current age - or 30 or 40 - and ask yourself what kind of older person you want to be. When you're in your 70s and beyond, where do you want to live? How will you run errands and do chores, stay connected with friends and family, and be as healthy and happy as possible?

A group of Boiseans thinks it is better to plan ahead for the transitions and consequences of aging than to have the future stymie them.

At a meeting Tuesday, the public will be able to find out more about forming "villages" in their neighborhoods - grass-roots, multigenerational organizations created to help older people remain at home and involved in their communities. They have sprung up across the country, so any town or neighborhood that wants to form one can choose from multiple "business models" and access plenty of real-world advice.

There are now enough villages to support a Village to Village Network, planning its fifth annual National Village Gathering Nov. 11-13 in St. Louis.

Recently, North End and East End neighbors have been discussing this concept. Attorney Susan Graham, who represents seniors and their families, is convinced that several of the more than 40 Boise neighborhoods have true village potential.

"I am seeing an increased need to provide support and a safety net for seniors," Graham said. "Often there is no one to check on them, or provide assistance with small and large activities, such as walking the dog, cleaning the gutters and taking them to the store or doctor."

One way to describe the village is as a kind of co-op. The members typically pay an annual fee that covers the administrative costs and connects them with trained volunteers - or in some cases, professionals such as repair people - who can help them, on an as-needed basis, continue to live independently. Affordability is key.

That's where the "multi" in "multigenerational" comes in. Younger people, as well as more active seniors, are the service providers. They do it for the sense of community, to honor their elders or to rekindle neighborhood spirit - and because they might need similar help as they age.

"Many of the services we need to live independently in the community already exist," said Diane Ronayne, a Boise photojournalist on a committee to gauge interest in the village idea. "We just need to make it easy and affordable to find and use them, and to figure out what's missing so we can locate or create it. In the process, we'll make new friends and accomplish something worthwhile for future generations."

Some villages also include a social component. At Beacon Hill Village in Massachusetts, established more than a decade ago, members can find a bridge game, or companions, or transportation for a concert or sporting event. Others, like Ashland At Home in Ashland, Ore., have been active for less than a year and focus on volunteer services: basic home repairs, assistance with pet and plant care, and friendly visits to someone who might otherwise be isolated.

"I think one of the charges of our village is that, in some way, every member can be of service to the others," said Katherine Danner, Ashland At Home's executive director.

"Today's older people had no idea that they would live this long, be retired for 25 or 30 years, or live with a chronic illness for as long as they have. I think they really are our teachers, and when you see how they've been able to cope, many of them are quite amazing."

Chris Thomas is a Boise writer who says she would be thrilled, at any age, to have someone help her run errands and do chores.

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