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'Village Movement' Allows Elderly To Age In Their Homes


Many older adults want to stay in their own homes as long as they can, and often they need some help to make that possible. Not everyone has family to count on. So for tens of thousands of older Americans, the solution has been something called the village.

NPR's Ina Jaffe covers aging. She's traveled around the country looking at how this concept has evolved. And she joins us. Now, first, Ina, what is the village?

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Well, it is not an actual village, first of all. It's a neighborhood-based membership organization. Usually, the way it works is that older adults pay dues of a few hundred dollars a year. And that pays for an office and a tiny staff. And then the village provides connections to discounted services, anything from contractors to grocery shopping to home health workers. There are also social activities. Basically, it's a lot of things you might find in assisted living except you don't have to leave your home.

SIEGEL: And these are all over the country?

JAFFE: Right. The number's grown to 230. And there are another 130 in development. But 15 years ago, there was only one village in the Beacon Hill section of Boston.

SIEGEL: And, Ina, since you went there to see what it was like, let's hear what you found out.

JAFFE: Well, first, I met one of the founders, Susan McWhinney-Morse.

SUSAN MCWHINNEY-MORSE: We started to worry about what was going to happen when we aged because we love, love, love our community. And we wanted to stay here.

JAFFE: McWhinney-Morse was in her mid-60s then and realized that what she wanted as she aged didn't exist. It took two years working with about a dozen of her neighbors to invent something new.

MCWHINNEY-MORSE: It's a grass-roots movement on the part of older people who did not want to be patronized, isolated, infantilized. That's what we felt was out there for us. And we felt quite competent in taking care of ourselves and staying in our own homes, which in 2000 was absolutely revolutionary.

JAFFE: But now it feels routine.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So there's either going to be a schism in the Republican Party, which some people are talking about...


JAFFE: Every Wednesday morning for nearly 10 years, a bunch of village members have been getting together at this restaurant to discuss politics over French toast. It's just one event on a calendar packed with classes, trips to museums, the theater, even travel to other cities.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Anyway, we were talking about climate change and the hope that these storms will...

JAFFE: Most of the people here this morning are in their 70s and 80s. Muriel Feingold says coming here every Wednesday has made her more alert.

MURIEL FEINGOLD: I've got to know - to keep up with stuff because you don't want to feel, you know, ignorant.

JAFFE: Beacon Hill Village now has more than 300 members, and it still performs the supportive tasks that were a major reason for its founding. One of the people who makes that happen is 67-year-old Tom Moore. Driving for the village is his retirement job.

TOM MOORE: Tuesdays and Fridays are our busiest day shopping-wise.

JAFFE: Eighty-three-year-old Joan Smith was able to go shopping thanks to a ride from Moore. As he loads her bags into the car, Smith says the transportation gives her the freedom to make her own selections at the store.

JOAN SMITH: So there's a little more spontaneity in it. You know, I do like checking to see what's there, whether there's something new, whether there's a special.

JAFFE: While Joan Smith was shopping, so was Tom Moore, picking up groceries for a village member who doesn't go out much these days.

MOORE: Hello, how are you?

CYNTHIA BEAUDOIN: Good, how are you?

MOORE: Would you like something over here? Thank you...

JAFFE: Seventy-seven-year-old Cynthia Beaudoin lives in a high-rise with a gorgeous view of the Charles River. She's lived here for 36 years. Her walker leans against a chair. She wears an emergency call button around her neck. It's been like this since she was in the hospital a few years ago.

BEAUDOIN: I didn't want to go into a - not a nursing home. What - put it...

JAFFE: Rehab?

BEAUDOIN: Rehab. Yeah. I wanted to just come home directly.

JAFFE: And she was able to arrange for care at home with help from the village. But being a member, she says, means more to her than the sum of the services offered.

BEAUDOIN: It's very comforting. That's one of the most important things.

JAFFE: And, Robert, she's now able to stay home and keep watching the river roll by from her window.

SIEGEL: Now, Ina, Beacon Hill in Boston is a famously affluent community. Would the village model work anywhere, do you think?

JAFFE: Well, we don't know yet. There's research from the University of California at Berkeley that found that nationwide, village members tend to be white and at least middle class. But there are experiments that we're going to hear about in the next couple of days, one in inner-city Chicago and another in rural California.

SIEGEL: NPR's Ina Jaffe. Ina, thanks.

JAFFE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."