How to Start Your Own Aging-in-Place Program

Local networks help seniors stay in their homes by guiding them to support services.

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As the "aging in place" movement matures, what's become known as the "village" model is slowly gaining traction and foundation funding support. A village comprises like-minded seniors who join together in neighborhood-centric groups to benefit from shopping discounts, social activities, transportation, home repairs, and a variety of volunteer support activities.

Members get the support they need to stay in their homes—age in place—rather than move into institutional settings. The networks provide them cost-effective access to services and a social network that can augment the support of friends and family.

The MetLife Foundation recently awarded a $250,000 grant to the movement's major umbrella organization, the Village to Village Network.

The network was started in 2010 by NCB Capital Impact, a nonprofit provider of community development financing, and Beacon Hill Village in Boston, which is generally acknowledged as the nation's first village program. Last fall, the Archstone Foundation provided $1.3 million in grants to support and accelerate village programs in California.

A broad range of aging-in-place groups is evolving. Villages tend to be on the private-market end of the spectrum, collecting member dues and providing access to a combination of fee-based and volunteer services. Other geographically concentrated populations of seniors, known as naturally occurring retirement communities, or NORCs, tend to provide more social and healthcare services, offered with the assistance of local nonprofits and religious organizations.

The Affordable Care Act, generally known as Obamacare, provides many incentives to expand aging-in-place services as cheaper ways to support seniors that are also responsive to the strong preferences people have to stay in their homes as they age. Healthcare and social service providers likewise are looking for home-based solutions as a way of handling growing numbers of seniors and unsustainable spending patterns for costly care in nursing homes and other institutions.

There are now 90 villages operating throughout the country, the VtV Network reports, plus another 150 in development and inquiries from hundreds of other neighborhoods. It is the intensely local nature of these villages that makes them successful. Budgets are modest, if not austere. Memberships of 150 or more are standard, and some larger villages have several times that many participants. The small scale means that people can get to know one another. It also enables a village to be developed on a relative shoestring, supported fully by member dues or augmented in some cases by foundation money and other social-service supports.

For people interested in developing a village program where they live, the network says, several steps need to be taken even before becoming a Network member:

• Have a founding group of three to five people willing to assume leadership positions and do the early development work.

• Develop a solid understanding of the needs in your community, and especially those needs that are unmet and which could be provided by a village program. A community needs-assessment survey is a recommended step to obtain this knowledge, and can also begin to build a list of potential village members.

• Define the geographical area you wish to serve and possible strategic partners with interests in that area—nonprofits serving an elderly population, perhaps, or healthcare organizations, social service agencies, and even retail merchants with large older clienteles.

• If these steps produce positive results, the next steps should include appointing a board of directors, creating a business plan and budget, and beginning to explore staffing needs and fundraising support.

Twitter: @PhilMoeller