It takes a village to raise a child ... and it takes a village to age with grace. At least that's what a rapidly growing movement is showing.
The "Village" concept is sprouting up across the country, including here on the Cape. It's a concept that creates a community of volunteers who provide basic services that enable people to age in their own homes.
Newest in Nauset
The newest on the block is Nauset Neighbors, which hopes to be up and running later this fall within the towns of Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, and Brewster.
Seniors sign up for a membership in the village and volunteers of many ages commit to providing services, like rides to the grocery story or simple home tasks.
The village entity coordinates available services and requests, and serves as the logistical hub.
Launched by Nauset Newcomers
Esther Elkin, of Wellfleet, is serving as president of the new non-profit's board. She says Nauset Neighbors began as an idea from the volunteer corps group within Nauset Newcomers.
"We had read about the concept and thought it would be a good long term project for the group," she said. "It's something we want to have in place as we grow older too, so we decided to start a Village here."
Nauset Neighbors received a $1500 donation from Nauset Newcomers to help in its launch process. It received its 501c3 designation this summer and has a core of about 20 volunteers in place. It is actively recruiting additional volunteers and expects to begin accepting memberships later this fall.
Beacon Hill Village, in Boston, was the first of what has become a national trend. It enrolled its first member in February 2002 and was an immediate success.
Four years later, it was receiving so many inquires that it published a guide to launching similar programs and created a formal network and support tools.
The Village to Village Network has become a sort of village central for growing a local Village.
There are more than 50 Village-affiliated villages up and running, with several hundred in various stages of development.
From DC (Capital Hill Village) to Seattle (North East Seattle Together - NEST) to Florida (Coral Gables @Home) the concept has taken off proving itself over and over again.
There are also a number of organizations that have taken their inspiration from Beacon Hill Village, but aren't affiliated with the Village to Village network, like Neighborhood Falmouth, in North Falmouth.
The Nauset group is a little different from some of the other villages in that its model calls for it to be fully volunteer run. Instead of a paid executive director and call staff, those roles will be divided up amongst a group.
"In our model, call managers will be at least 10 different people on half day shifts. The calls from members will be routed to a volunteer via Google Voice. The call manager volunteers will then enter the member's request into a database system which was developed by the Village to Village network," explains Elkin.
On the Lower Cape, a lack of transportation is one of the biggest hurdles people face in being able to stay in their own homes as they age.
One of the things Nauset Neighbors hopes to do is coordinate trips, so that if someone is planning to drive from Wellfleet to the Stop & Shop in Orleans, for example, they might be able to offer a ride to someone else who needs to go grocery shopping but might not be comfortable driving themselves any longer.
No one is making a special trip - but that one trip is leveraged to benefit more than one person. It's a neighborly thing to do, but hard to coordinate without a central organizing point.
A side benefit of this is that it will benefit the environment and reduce duplicate round trips in the car, as well. Nauset Neighbors lets volunteers and members be green - and get a needed task done.
"It makes sense," explained Elkin. "Lots of people are doing the drive already and it's a matter of coordinating and matching."
Membership will be approximately $200 a year, significantly lower than some of the other models. The membership helps support the organization's overhead costs, like liability insurance and other recurring fees. Because there is no paid staff, costs for members can be kept low.
For that membership, people can request as many or as few services as they need. For some people, membership might be a low cost backup for the few times the need help. For others it could be the difference between living at home and having to leave their home.
In fact, people might be both members and volunteers - giving and receiving based on their needs and abilities. The goal is to create a community that supports itself, rather than the traditional one-way service delivery model.
In addition to transportation, needed services like prescription pick-up and shopping are part of the expected mix. Light handyman or home services will also be included. "They are the kinds of simple things that most people could have done themselves, but perhaps can't now," said Elkin.
The group also plans a set of 'vetted vendors' who members can turn to for additional paid services.
They also hope to coordinate with existing organizations like the Councils on Aging to avoid duplication and augment options. For example, Nauset Neighbors might be able to coordinate carpooling for an event being held at a COA.
Boomers Making Booming Need
The oldest of the Baby Boomers turn 65 next year. As this generation - some 79 million strong - continues to age, it is both putting pressure on existing structures and bringing new expectations for the senior years.
Solutions like the Village movement are growing rapidly as the Boomers create new models.
No one wants to be forced out of their homes as they age because of an inability to do simple tasks, like grocery shopping. And if it takes a village to make it so, then projects like Nauset Neighbors just might be the village to make it happen.