Bellingham seniors looking to create a village for 'aging in place'

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 16, 2014 

I am a senior citizen and I want very much to live for the rest of my life in my home here in Bellingham. I know that this isn't always possible, depending on circumstances, but now I know that I can improve my chances by joining together with other seniors to make "aging in place" a lot easier. Now I'm doing all I can to bring people together to make a "Bellingham Village" a reality.

It all started when I watched a PBS News Hour report about Beacon Hill Village (you can still see it at youtube.com/watch?v=B4HCEhS5al8). Their mission is to provide services for their members that they need to enjoy staying in their existing homes by helping each other and getting to know each other better in the process. Members design and govern their own village, deciding what services they want to have and at what price. Much of the work is done by volunteers, either from within the group or from the broader community, but coordinating all this activity is still a full time job.

The great thing is that people can make it happen - Beacon Hill Village is still going strong 15 years after they started as a discussion group in 1999 and they have been successfully "copied" in over 100 communities across the nation.

If you're curious you can find out a lot more this Thursday, Feb. 20 at 4:30 p.m. at the Bellingham Senior Activity Center, 315 Halleck St., when Katharine Danner, executive director of Ashland at Home will be speaking about their experiences starting their own "village." She also traveled to Beacon Hill Village in Boston over the holidays, so she can tell us more about how the "original" is working.

Bellingham already has a lot going for it as a future village. We have a strong tradition of volunteerism and many educated and active seniors who are proud homeowners determined to "age in place."

There are a lot of "little things" that we can do for each other to make it easier to stay in our homes and enjoy our time together, whether it's getting a ride to the airport, bringing over a hot meal when someone is sick or injured, making a home more "user friendly" as the "user" ages, or just checking in on someone from time to time if they're living alone.

Other facilities may be necessary at times, but many of us live in perfectly good homes and the longer we stay in them the longer we can be vital parts of the neighborhoods we already live in. As more people choose to stay in their homes, fewer resources would be needed to build group homes for an aging population.

And, it's great to have children or grandchildren we can rely on to help us "age in place." But it's also nice to be able to tell them they're free to go out of state or around the world for a week or two or a whole new career and not to worry about us, we've got a whole village who will fill in for them while they're away.

It will take a village to create a "village" here in Bellingham, and if you are curious about the idea and/or ready to help make it happen, please call me at 360-671-0248 or e-mail at janejon@comcast.net.

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