For many aging seniors, staying in their homes and communities is their top priority. Fortunately, The Village to Village network is a successful model of communities coming together and helping seniors receive support while ‘aging in place’.
Wilma Bishop grew up around the corner from her current home in the Phinney Ridge Neighborhood of Seattle. The 89-year-old widow went to Ballard High School and has vivid memories of living through the depression in Seattle. Bishop is healthy and happy, but three years ago she was almost forced out of her home.
“I was over on Roosevelt in front of the Trader Joe’s and I fell,” said Bishop. “You see pictures of people who go flying, and I did.”
Bishop had more falls after that–“I think it did something to my balance”–and had to give up driving. Suddenly, errands that were part of her daily life became obstacles. Wilma had no way to get around. Her daughter lives in West Seattle but wasn’t able to spend her days driving her mother to her various destinations, and transporting groceries on the bus was too daunting for Wilma to consider.
“I need to get to the grocery store,” Bishop says. “It keeps me from going into some sort of retirement facility, which I do not want if I can help it.”
Luckily, Bishop is a member of the Phinney Neighborhood Association, or PNA. The PNA has a program called PNA Village, a part of the national Village to Village network, that helps seniors stay in their home and community. The program has a strong network of volunteers who assist seniors with non-medical tasks such as yard work, minor repair work, or rides. The network also provides seniors with access to a vetted vendor list for more professional needs that includes electricians, dog walkers or tech support.
Bishop became a member of the network, and secured not one, but three people to bring her to the grocery store on a regular basis
“[The PNA Village] said they had people that could pick me up and I was so surprised, that was terrific,” Bishop said. “So now I have three people who bring me grocery shopping, and I also get rides to the Greenwood Senior Center for a couple of things that I do up there.”
The cost of full individual membership to the PNA Village network is less than three hundred dollars a year (membership costs vary for each individual village). For Bishop, the cost of being able to stay in her home is not only worth it emotionally, but financially it’s a bargain too. According to the department of health and human services, the average cost of a nursing home in Washington State is over $6,000 a month. Assisted living facilities average just over $3,000 a month for a one-bedroom unit.
“When you survey people, you find out they want to age in place, they want to stay in their home, and be part of an inter-generational community, rather than be isolated by age,” says local resident Ed Medeiros, who founded the PNA Village in 2011. “The village enables you to make these connections in a much easier way.”
Local author and gerontologist Jeanette Franks agrees. “One of the predictors I see that can give you a high quality of life in old age is how seniors answer the question 'who decided you were going to live here?'" she said. Franks’ book, To Move or To Stay Put encourages seniors and their families to talk frankly about decisions related to aging.
“In our culture we have a lot of negative stereotypes and misconceptions about aging and older people,” says Franks. “It’s very important to recognize that people of all ages can make their own choices, whether they’re good choices or bad choices.”
Franks made the decision to downsize to a condominium on Bainbridge Island with her partner a few years ago. She says universal design, walkability, and access to amenities are ideal for seniors who age in place. She is also leading discussions to form a village network on Bainbridge.
For seniors, living in a community that provides services and volunteer support sounds like a perfect match. However, Medeiros says the biggest challenge he sees in the village is actually getting seniors to join the network. Denial and pride often get in the way, he says.
“Getting people to join is not always easy, because people are thinking I’m not ready yet, maybe I’m not even a senior and I might be 75–it’s your own self-image and how you feel,” Medeiros said. But if you don’t join and support the program when you are ready, it might not be there.”
For more information about the Phinney Neighborhood Association Village network, visit http://www.phinneycenter.org/village/index.html. To see if there’s a Village to Village network near you, visit http://www.vtvnetwork.org/.
Stacey Jenkins is the Managing Producer of What's Good 206. She is an Emmy-award winning producer who is passionate about pushing the boundaries of digital media and training the next generation of multimedia journalists. Stacey has been a Digital Content Producer at KCTS 9 for the past four years; her stories have been showcased locally on IN Close as well as nationally on SciTech Now and the PBS NewsHour's Art Beat. Stacey's experience also includes working as a senior producer for KPTS, as an assistant media instructor and producer for Portland Community College and a TV news reporter for the CBC in Canada.
Fun Fact: Stacey's guilty pleasures include over-the-top Halloween decor, eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can and Maroon 5's "Sugar" video.More stories by Stacey Jenkins