How to start a village

You have heard the saying: It takes a village. When it comes to trying to age in your own home, and especially with adult children living far away and raising their own families, having a neighborly place to live — a village — may be all you need. At least 15 “villages,” where neighbors help neighbors to remain in their homes as they age, are operating or starting in Montgomery County.

Villages are neighborhood and community programs where neighbors provide services to help other neighbors remain in their homes as they age. Older residents formed the first formal village, Beacon Hill, in Boston, Mass., in 2001. Based on the success of the Beacon Hill Village model, similar organizations formed in communities in other states, starting a movement that continues to expand and grow.

While Beacon Hill requires a fee from members to support a village administrator, newer villages provide services through a range of models including fee-based, membership and volunteers.

As Leslie Marks, author of the Village Blueprint has noted, “if you’ve seen one village, you have seen one village.” No two villages are alike; each develops based on the needs of individual communities and on the availability of committed leadership and volunteers. The Village Blueprint provides examples, case studies and how-to advice to groups starting to plan a neighborhood village.

Older adults are actively involved in the planning of villages in their communities. Some of the villages in Montgomery County have formal organizations while others do not. Only one operates with paid staff and all rely on a corps of volunteers. Some villages charge fees to members, but most do not.

Two members of the Montgomery County Commission on Aging co-authored a study of neighborhood villages in the county. Miriam Kelty, who also co-chairs the Washington Area Village Exchange , and fellow Commissioner Noella Heyman led a survey of the existing villages and found that the most requested service among all village members is transportation. Some 10 to 15 village members, on average, request transportation services on a monthly basis.

Village leaders, often volunteers themselves, coordinate volunteers willing to provide transportation and other services such as friendly visits, yard work, or simple house maintenance such as changing a light bulb. For more major services, some villages develop and vet a list of vendors.

According to Kelty, to start a village, find others who share the interest and are willing to help. Consider linking to a local homeowners or citizens group. Start a simple survey to see what kinds of assistance residents would like and who will volunteer. Check out resources such as the Village Blueprint or contact WAVE at wavevillages.org.

Among villages already operating in the county are Burning Tree Village, Bannockburn Neighbors-Assisting-Neighbors, Chevy Chase at Home, Silver Spring Village, and Olney Home for Life. Montgomery County’s Aging and Disabilities Office recently hired a new village coordinator, Pazit Aviv, to provide resources and assistance to neighborhoods starting a village.

For more information, contact the county’s senior resource line at 240-777-3000.

Judith Welles, a local writer, formerly chaired the Montgomery County Commission on Aging.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *