I am writing this column in my hotel room in Baltimore, having spent the last three days at a national conference on how to develop programs that support older adults who want to “age in community” (versus “age in place,” which one attendee likened to a hamster spinning on its wheel, and let’s face it, not going anywhere). Aging in community suggests the way we want to picture ourselves: staying active and engaged, in a healthy and socially connected way.

The conference was the 9th annual gathering of the Village to Village Network, a national organization that helps communities establish and manage their own initiatives aimed at providing resources critical to aging well. The title of the conference was Enhancing the Power of Aging, and as I learned over the next three days, the Village model does indeed enhance lives while empowering people to get assistance that preserves their autonomy.

 One of my first observations was that at age 62, I was one of the younger attendees.  When I looked around at the nearly 400 attendees, I saw many older women who were passionate about their commitment to either starting a Village or helping their operating Village continue to prosper. Many were volunteer board members for their villages, donating thousands of hours to making the concept real for their communities. It was inspiring to hear their words of wisdom about the value of the Village, regardless of whether they were from rural or metropolitan areas and serving 40 or 500 members.

The Village Movement, started 15 years ago on the east coast, has spread across the county with more than 230 villages in operation and 130 in development. Villages are high touch, keeping members connected through volunteering and socializing, offering ways to meet new friends through gatherings and events. Villages also provide supportive services such as transportation, handyman, technology support, and daily check in calls.

One of their most valuable features is that they offer vendor referrals, such as plumbers and other licensed professionals, who have been recommended by other Village members. Just like the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, the Village Movement is a return to the past, when neighbors turned to each other to either lend or receive a helping hand and advice.

Villages are about aging well, and also about aging proactively. Far too often, our view of aging is that as we age we must react to the curve balls that aging throws us; for example, what will I do if I slip and hurt my leg? Villages offer programing on how to prevent falls and how to make your home mobility friendly. In this way, the Village is outside of our typical medical model of aging insofar as it isn’t as focused on treating a medical or chronic health issue, but rather making an investment in programing and support that assures you can live independently as long and safely as possible.

The Village empowers members to make a declaration that they will take the steps to do what they can as part of a community where older adults live a vibrant and resilient life. Sounds powerful to me. Stay tuned.

By: Sally Anderson