'Village movement' helps senior citizens stay in their homes longer


Katharine Danner learned about senior services when her elderly mother stayed with her with the help of caregivers.

Jon Shaughnessy learned about vulnerability when he broke an ankle and needed a friend to drive him from the hospital.

Both are now involved in the "village movement," an effort across the country to help people who want to stay in their homes as long as possible rather than move into a care facility.

Danner is executive director of Ashland At Home, a nonprofit program in Oregon that trains volunteers to help members with transportation, household chores and many of the other day-to-day bugaboos that can make it difficult for people, especially senior citizens, to live on their own.

"We do the kinds of thing a person would ask a friend or a neighbor to do," she said.

Danner will discuss the village movement at "What's Next? Housing Options As We Age," a free public program Thursday, Feb. 20, at Bellingham Senior Activity Center.

Shaughnessy, 65, moved to Bellingham from Los Angeles after he retired from teaching and community organizing. He saw a TV program about the country's first village program, in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood, and liked the idea so much that he hopes to help organize a local program.

"I'm very confident that we're going to have a village here in, give or take, two years," he said.


Danner said the need for such programs reflects changes in society. Not so long ago, grown children stayed close enough to their parents that they could lend a hand whenever mom or dad needed a bit of help. Or, if the kids weren't available, relatives or a longtime neighbor could pitch in.

That's still true for some people, but more and more, people move away to places like Ashland or Bellingham when they retire, leaving children and friends far away, Danner said.

That's fine until an accident, health problem or advancing age make it hard for the retirees to live on their own even though they, like many older people, may prefer to stay at home.

To help such people, more than 100 village organizations have sprung up, with a comparable number in the works. Details of how they operate vary, but the common idea is to provide programs and services to help members "age in place."

In Ashland, for example, about 60 trained volunteers help members with car rides, house and lawn chores, friendly visits and clerical help, among other services. Volunteers do not provide medical service, and don't provide ongoing care for people unable to, for example, feed, dress or bathe themselves.

The programs also often offer educational, travel and social opportunities for members, and maintain lists of businesses and professionals that members might hire for jobs volunteers can't do.

Ashland At Home has about 40 members, with a goal of 150 within the next few years. Members pay $500 to $600 a year, with a subsidy program in the works.

Ashland's program is open to anyone 18 and older, but village programs often target people, say, 50 and older. Some programs work through existing agencies; Ashland's is a stand-alone operation.

Shaughnessy said a flexible approach is important because programs should reflect each community's needs.

Variations aside, Danner said, the goal is to develop programs that make "aging in place" a workable reality for more people.

"Sometimes we've given much more credence to independence than to living collaboratively," she said. "What we're really trying to stress is 'aging in community.'"


Attend: "What's Next? Housing Options as We Age," a free public program, 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, at Bellingham Senior Activity Center, 315 Halleck St.

At 2 p.m., Shelly Zylstra of the Northwest Regional Council will discuss housing options. At 4:30, Katharine Danner will discuss the village movement approach to "aging in place."

Learn more: Websites about the village movement include beaconhillvillage.org, and vtvnetwork.org and villagesnw.org.

Be involved: To help start a village program in Bellingham, contact Jon Shaughnessy, 360-671-0248 or janejon@comcast.net.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-229 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com .

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