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Op-Ed: Building A Village, Part I

By Rick Reed for The Island Eye News

With the small town feel, laid back lifestyles and many activities and needs within walking or biking distance; Sullivan’s Island has the opportunity to be what used to be connected neighborhoods and intergenerational community. Urban planning, sprawl, unfettered growth, isolation of age groups into silos (ghettos even) has made quality of life difficult elsewhere. But the study done to kickoff discussion of a 10 Year Plan, demonstrated we have none of those problems on SI. Hidden in the details, however, were features like high income, rapid increase in young family migration and incredibly larges homes, which can lead to older adult gentrification. Loss to a community of founding families, “institutional memory”, cultural history and the wisdom of aging, can weaken diversity and foster the dreaded “gated community”. The need to preserve these important aspects of community has been fully embraced by the Battery Gadsden Cultural Center. This potential has motivated several older adults to learn about the Village Movement. The Village Movement began when several neighbors in Beacon Hill, Boston decided to pool all their resources to help their neighbors stay in their own homes and age in place. This model continues to be redefined in well over 200 Villages and what has been learned is that we older adults can define our own destiny and protect our freedom. This empowerment and personal independence with social interdependence extends quality years for older adults.

Several older adult (55 – 85+) members of the Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms communities, in an informal gathering, pooled their ideas about how to continue living on SI /IOP indefinitely and independently and came up with the idea of starting a Village. The Village makes it possible to live within multigenerational communities (the old neighborhood of the 40s to 60s) and conserve assets for anticipated longer life spans. Rather than become herded into “old folks” homes or retirement communities, neighborhood resident members volunteer or pay staff to coordinate activities (physical, mental, social and spiritual) and arrange services necessary to maintain their homes and engage in healthy, active lifestyles. Sharing resources and individual expertise, lightens the financial burden of aging while providing volunteer support within our communities. This cost effective collective, yet person centered approach, has been shown to delay or even prevent the need for institutional care. Most of those who have expressed interest want to avoid a highly sophisticated, complex management and fee-based system requiring permanent staff. They see no advantage to replacing expensive aging in retirement centers with a more expensive membership dependent formula. In an attempt to avoid a pattern of complexity, a New Island Village should encourage individual autonomy while sharing the benefits of collective bargaining and individual choice for services in an “a la cart” fashion.

This can be accomplished by outsourcing most services to already existing entities with their already built in management, security and monitoring and data collection. Many of these are reasonably priced or free but can be modified to the selected population of a Village, without “reinventing the wheel,” i.e. designing programs from scratch. Examples might include:

1. Communication using a separate group under NextDoor confined to SI /IOP

2. Recreation and social gathering opportunities at IOP Rec and/or MP Senior Center

3. Educational, social, gaming and project gathering at Poe Library and Battery Gadsden Cultural Center

4. Promoting volunteer participation with Meals on Wheels, Senior Ride Charleston, National Park Service, community gardens, etc.

5. Course and educational forums through the College of Charleston’s Center for Creative Retirement and the Public Library.

6. Health connections to MUSC Office on Aging or Roper St Francis Senior Connection

7. Since “ridership” determines CARTA service, properly timed routes linking SI, IOP, Mt. Pleasant Shem Creek to Ben Sawyer, IOP Connector to Town Center and the MP Senior Center would solve many auto dependent issues

None of this happens overnight but a vision and expressed interest in something like the Village could bring folks together for a Mayberry? Camelot? Utopia? City on a Hill experience? – probably not. At least let us protect the real community characteristics and quality of life that would allow all of us to live out our days on Sullivan’s Island.

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