Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It Takes a Village

An old African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The implication is that raising a child is not only the parents’ responsibility, but also the community’s.

Now dozens of neighborhoods in the U.S. are proudly declaring, “It takes a village to support our seniors,” and we’re excited about it.

The senior “village” movement began in 2001 in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. Like many neighborhoods, this particular one had begun with a mix of single-family homes housing parents who worked and raised their children. As the neighborhood aged, so did its residents.

Some in Beacon Hill began to think about ways they could get services to come to them rather than their having to move to retirement or assisted living communities.

Working with a nonprofit organization, they created their own Naturally Occurring Retirement Community or NORC (rhymes with “fork”). Through dues and grants their neighborhood has services similar to those found in most retirement communities: wellness programs, in-home care, transportation, home repair, housekeeping, grocery shopping, meal preparation and social and cultural programs.

By organizing and delivering programs and services that allow residents to lead safe, healthy, productive lives in their own homes, Beacon Hill is the role model for an effort that makes it possible for seniors to stay in their neighborhoods as they age.

Emily Melander of Housing Opportunities Made Easier, a nonprofit that advocates for greater housing availability and affordability in Ventura County, thinks NORCs are an inventive solution to the senior housing dilemma.

“NORCs are experiencing explosive growth in part due to older adults’ desire to age in place and stay in their community,” Melander said. “They offer a range of services that would not be affordable for most people on an individual basis. And the village concept allows residents and their families to make choices so that the entire burden of caring for an aging parent does not rest on the family alone.

“The village movement is one of a number of creative options we will explore at our ninth annual Ventura County Housing Conference on Sept. 15,” Melander said.

Consider Wes and his wife, Jo. They’re in their 60s and live in a 35-year-old neighborhood in Thousand Oaks. The couple talked with neighbors about the “village” idea before they learned it had a name.

“We half-joked about a number of us moving into a few houses on the street as we got older and hiring a driver, cook and housekeeper,” Wes said.

Today there are more than 50 villages in a community-neighbor system funded by grants, volunteers and membership dues.

If this trend continues, “it takes a village” will take on a whole new meaning.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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