I heard some startling numbers the other evening. I was attending a Minnesota 2030 Community Conversation, hosted at Family Means, on the topic of designing our future as an aging population. More about the numbers later.

The facilitator set the stage with this intriguing question: “the year is 2030 and you are 85 years old living in your own home. You may or may not have children/family supports, or they live at a distance. Describe what is important to you when you think about the services and supports you need to continue to live independently.”

As an unmarried woman with no children, and family on the east coast, the question was especially pertinent to my situation. The group of older adults at my table, while they had children nearby, were quick to state that they wanted to remain as independent as possible and not “become a burden” to their family.

As we continued to share our situations, the talk turned to what would be most important to us as we envisioned having services and supports in our homes. We agreed that we would need to have services provided by someone we could trust, who would respect us and our wishes, and who would be competent as a provider. Of course, affordability would have to be considered.

Here’s where the startling numbers come in. According to the 2017 Genworth Cost of Care Survey, which conducts national studies on the cost of long term care, in Minnesota the average annual cost to hire a homemaker five days a week is $59,448. For a home health aide, the cost rises to $61,776. Both more affordable options than nursing home care, which ranged from $98,000 for a semi-private to $103,000 for a private room.

The Minnesota 2030 Community Conversation was timely since it followed on the heels of another public conversation on Aging in Place that Community Thread recently held. At that gathering of 85 attendees, we talked about the feasibility of a model of support called the “Village”.  Villages are organized to create affordable supports that are needed to stay living in your own home, using a combination of paid staff and volunteers to keep it affordable.

Currently, there are 200 open villages and 150 in development across the United States. Village annual membership fees range from $150 to $500 and low income seniors are subsidized, making it accessible regardless of income. Besides affordability, the other benefit of a Village is that it is created by its members, who have a voice in the types of services provided. And because it uses screened volunteers for some of the services, it encourages volunteerism, creating a sense of community.

Community Thread’s history of serving seniors by engaging volunteers puts us in the unique role of leading this conversation about the value of a Village. Our organization had its origin as a grassroots effort to fulfill unmet needs for older adults, such as giving people rides to medical appointments using volunteers. The Village model has the potential to create a supportive community for independent aging for years to come.

Stay tuned for more information about this model as we explore if it would be a good fit for the greater Stillwater area. And if it is a good fit, imagine that the year is 2030 and we live in a place where neighbors help neighbors, in a virtual village of caring for each other’s well-being. That’s the kind of community where I want to age.

By: Sally Anderson