The Village Movement started in Boston 15 years ago. A group of neighbors got together and invented a way of helping themselves and each other stay in their homes comfortably as long as they could, rather than just hanging on by the skin of their teeth. “Village” in this context refers not to a place, but to an approach to building a supportive community by people who live near each other. Boston’s Beacon Hill Village became a model; today there are 200 open villages in the U.S., with 150 more in development. In the Pacific Northwest, we have about half a dozen operating villages with more opening soon.
There are many variations on the basic village theme: some villages emphasize services; some limit services; some are staffed; some are all-volunteer. Whether a village is urban or rural affects its approach. Many rural villages are one of the few sources of transportation for their members. Whatever the model, being a member of a village can be very helpful to people who are new in town, without close-by family, single, or just seeking more community engagement.
My village, Wider Horizons, connects and engages people living in all the neighborhoods in the eastern part of Central Seattle, down to the Mt. Baker neighborhood. We’ve been open since June 2015 and now have 77 members: Their average age is 74 and ages range from the late 40s to the mid-90s. As a group, they are fascinating, independent people who want to age in community. Many joined as an extension of a lifetime of citizen activism.
Membership fees vary from village to village depending on size and level of services. Our dues are typical of villages that have staff: an annual fee of $600 for one person or $900 for a household of any size, with reduced fees for people with lower incomes. The revenue from fees is not enough to make us sustainable, so like all villages—which are generally non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations—we raise funds from other sources.
In my village, we do the things many close-knit families and friends do together—dinners, social events, rides to the doctor or the airport when needed, light home repairs, help with gardening and computer issues, and the like. We have fun together; we take care of each other; we learn new things; we have adventures; we feel engaged and worthy. We are especially grateful for our non-member volunteers, most of whom provide technology support.
Village members value the connections with each other more than anything else. As one tells me, “I joined my village to remain independent. As we age, things change—professional ties may weaken; friends retire, move, and travel. Some close friends die. While I still have my circle of friends and activities, my village offers a new community of interesting people who share my goals of remaining engaged and independent. It takes a village for us to thrive as elders and my village truly is a feast of people.”
Denise Klein led the Seattle-King County Area Agency on Aging for 12 years, was Sound Generations CEO for 10 years, and spent 13 years as a national aging consultant. The recipient of two national leadership awards, she currently serves Wider Horizons, a virtual village in central Seattle, as its founding executive director (widerhorizonsvillage.org).