Aging-In-Place Villages: Helping Elders Stay at Home Through Community Volunteering

An older man and woman standing together

If your elderly parent is still living at home, you may be worried about their ability to handle chores that used to seem commonplace, like changing a light bulb in a ceiling light or installing new batteries in smoke detectors. Perhaps your Mom or Dad has already given up driving. Or maybe that decision is looming on the horizon.

As people age, one thing is clear -- their relationships with their homes change. Fortunately, “aging in place villages” are emerging in many communities to ease that transition. These nonprofit, grassroots organizations provide services that help elders safely remain in their homes and maintain social connections. I recently interviewed Carol Donohue, the Website and Software Chair of Bay to Sound Neighbors, to learn more about aging in place villages. Bay to Sound Neighbors serves senior citizens in Yarmouth and Dennis on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

What is an aging in place village?

Villages are membership organizations that are organized at the grassroots level. Every village is a little bit different because the needs of elders in each community are unique. The Village to Village Network is a national organization that helps communities create and manage their own aging in place villages.

“Bay to Sound Neighbors leverages a network of volunteers who want to help older members of our community age in place at home for as long as possible,” said Donohue. “We provide a range of services from transportation to appointments to help with home and garden chores, technology assistance, and friendly calls.”

The organization was formed as a 501(c)3 nonprofit and is comprised of two groups:

  • Members. Seniors pay a yearly membership fee which enables them to submit requests for services. An individual membership costs $250 and a household membership is $375. Reduce fees are available based on income level. Membership fees cover expenses like volunteer insurance, software licensing fees, postage, and background/CORI checks for volunteers. Fees vary from village to village.

  • Volunteers. Bay to Sound Neighbors conducts a background check on all volunteers and requires new volunteers to attend an orientation session. To provide rides, volunteers also must provide a copy of their driver’s license and the first page of their car insurance and registration. Volunteers staff Bay to Sound Neighbors “virtual office” and phone lines which are open Monday through Friday from 9am to noon and 1pm to 4pm. When the virtual office is closed, members can leave a voicemail message.

How does a village member request services?

“At Bay to Sound Neighbors, our members can enter requests for assistance in our web-based village software from Helpful Village. Alternatively, if they aren’t comfortable with technology, they can call our virtual office and a volunteer will enter the request into the system,” Donohue explained.

“Each day, our volunteers receive a daily email with requests from our members. The email contains a link and they can sign up for the requests they are interested in. When volunteers sign up for a request, they see a Google map of the location of the members’ home as well as the destination. The volunteer will call the member to introduce themselves. The volunteer also contacts the member the day before the meeting to confirm their appointment.”

The village has proven to be beneficial for both the members and volunteers in Yarmouth and Dennis. “Our members gain independence and social connections by getting to social activities as well as to their medical appointments or to the grocery store. Our volunteers also feel good about what they’re doing. The work often gives volunteers a sense of purpose after losing their own parents. They want to make the world a better place by paying it forward,” Donohue noted.

How did Bay to Sound Neighbors get started?

This particular aging in place village was started by 3 women and grew to a group of around 20 people. The team formed four committees (operations, marketing/outreach, technology, and administration/nonprofit establishment). “The committees met for about a year and a half. Bay to Sound Neighbors was formally launched in September 2018,” Donohue explained.

Within the first four months, the village has attracted 70 members and almost 80 volunteers. According to Donohue, “We receive around 75 requests per month from seniors and around 85% of those are for transportation – that’s definitely the greatest need.”

How can I find a village in my community or start one?

The Village to Village Network website has a searchable directory of open villages. Currently, there are over 200 open villages and over 150 under development in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Other potential resources are local Councils on Aging and Senior Centers.

Groups interested in starting a village for their community can visit the Village to Village Network website for additional information and resources.

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