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Op-Ed: Building A Village, Part II

By Rick Reed for The Island Eye News

Just as no one Village is exactly like another, there are also variations of the theme. It is important to look not only at the different potentials of the “New Village” but to learn from the problems that are already being seen. The rapid explosion of Villages has been mirrored by a rapid increase in problems brought about by Villages taking on more than that for which they were designed, and creating complexity too great to manage. In fact, continuing on a path of attempting to provide everything for everybody is antithetical to how the movement began. Villages initially were reactions to retirement communities with soup to nuts amenities and the indignities of assisted living. Both robbed residents of autonomy, self-determination and active mental planning and individuality. Both herded seniors into fixed menus, prescribed activities and assistance, often benefiting service providers more than older adults. But as Villages become more managed by paid staff than by volunteer driven service and begin to reinvent existing outside services for control within, they begin to look like the concepts they sought to replace. Also, while the Village movement is gaining rapidly, there are parallel efforts that give older adults options to craft their own “aging in a community Village”. While no Village is like another we can incorporate several different parallel movements that are currently taking place.

1. Many residential retirement “soup to nuts” communities are taking on Village concepts within their walls to attract those outside their walls – Lutheran’s “Be Well” is an example that delays retirement to their Lutheran Homes by creating access to services within their walls without being a resident. This allows longer, independent Aging in Place outside their walls, while establishing a link for future planning.

2. Several advances to Aging in Place have been created with more sophisticated Villages focused on healthy lifestyles and intellectual independence.

Roger Landry’s Masterpiece Living attracts those who embrace their age but seek ways to extend quality years. The best models are evolving and no one plan satisfies all needs.

3. Country Club retirement communities built to follow their residents to the grave, are siphoning off the more financially stable seniors but are very expensive “up front” and may exhaust resources for those who live into their 90s. Another down side is constant programming and controlled lifestyle.

The absence of independence and the brain stimulation of self-management, stifles real “aging in place”. But many of these “soup to nuts” franchises are using some cost cutting measures to give residents more options and independence.

4. Many communities are expanding their Senior Center locations to provide basically everything a Village has to offer other than home repair, volunteer, personal and maintenance services. The Thomasena-Stokes Marshall Mount Pleasant Senior Center is the social, exercise, game, learning center hub for the central MP population. In addition there are numerous food opportunities with cooking events, Lunch and Learn sessions and a fully stocked “Coffee Room” open all day. Communication is extensive with publications, emails and a constantly changing marquee. The IOP Rec center already provides these opportunities for both IOP and SI older adults. Raising funds for workout equipment could complement the existing cardiovascular equipment that would serve the needs of all generations. There is important interaction between young and old at IOP Rec, which is an advantage over an older adult only facility.

5. Churches are finally figuring out that their diminishing congregations are left with a higher proportion of seniors. They are looking for ways to minister to this population with programming and resources – the Lutheran Church does this best, other denominations are catching up. There are now Older Adult Ministries that take on many of the features of the Village. Why is a Village important? There are few opportunities for truly intergenerational support, the Church being an exception.

Reestablishment of the “old neighborhood”, where every generation looked out for the other, should be the goal. Most of the changes 1-4 above continue to move seniors into silos. The autonomy of the Village may be its own worst enemy.

Society with an ageism bias may say, “Hey look, older adults can take care of themselves – good riddance.” Thank goodness residents of SI and IOP don’t think or talk like that.

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