Village Removes Obstacles for Local Seniors

Nov 30, 2012

Village member Gerda sits in her Carmel Home.

Most seniors hope to live in their homes indefinitely. But plans can change when there’s the loss of a driver’s license or home maintenance becomes overwhelming.  The Village Movement is removing some of these obstacles across the nation and now locally.

Nettie Porter’s office at the Carmel Foundation is just the right size to fit her desk and couple of chairs for visitors, so you wouldn’t know just by looking that this is the heart of the Monterey Bay Village.  “It is a virtual village,” said Porter. The Monterey Bay Village is a non-profit network for seniors on the Monterey Peninsula and in Carmel Valley.  It helps them stay in their home by assisting them with little things that can make a big difference  like a ride to the grocery store, help finding a handyman, or even someone to play chess with.  With each request she gets, Porter turns to her long list of vetted service providers and volunteers.  She says the service is not a replacement for a nursing home, but it does fill a gap. “Some people can age in their homes until they pass away.  Others may have to go to some other assisted living, and so the village might give them an extra three to five years in their homes,” said Porter.

82-year-old Gerda joined the village when it launched in July.  As she walks through her Carmel home, it’s clear she’s quickly grown to rely on the village. First there was the burned out light bulb in the hallway changed by a volunteer.  “It took him less than five minutes, but it would’ve taken me five hours by the time I had gotten a little stepping stool and everything,” said Gerda. Then she had a leaky faucet in a bathroom.  “Somebody came and just tightened it,” she added. Finally she relies on the Village to take her to the grocery store and to her doctors’ appointments.  “They drive right into my driveway, and I just have to go a couple of steps,” said Gerda.  She bought this house with her late husband decades ago. She has a lot of memories here, and she loves to sit in her garden courtyard.  “It’s security.  I’ve lived in this home for 41 years. Especially when you have a vision problem, you know where every chair is.   I want to stay in here as long as I can,” she added. 

Staying at home as long as possible is the idea that launched the Village Movement ten years ago in Boston’s Beacon Hill Neighborhood. That’s where a group of neighbors devised this way to help each other age in place.  Today the Village-to-Village Network has more than 90 villages across the nation and over 100 in development.   Andy Sharlach is the Kleiner Professor of Aging at UC Berkeley.  He’s studied the movement for the past four years. Reached at his office, he says villages empower seniors because they play a role in creating something.  “As we get older the opportunities to do that become less and less, especially when we are not engaged in the paid workforce, etc.  And so I think it provides a very vital venue for people to feel empowered and to make a difference in their communities,” said Sharlach

Nettie Porter says as membership in the Monterey Bay Village grows, so will opportunities to add a social component.  So far the Village has 37 members. She hopes it will grow to 150.  “The challenge is the NRYs.  The not ready yets.  A lot of seniors see the value in joining a village, but they’re just not ready yet. And so what we try to stress is to join now to have something in place when a crisis happens in life, so you are not doing crisis management,” said Porter.  Villages can start anywhere, but to survive Porter stresses funding is key.  Funds come from grants, donor support and annual membership dues, local dues are $360 a year. The Monterey Bay Village is currently backed by the Carmel Foundation, but eventually Porter says the goal is for it to stand on its own financially.