By Stephanie Sumell, Special to the Acorn
As a longtime volunteer for Meals on Wheels, 90-year-old Harry Norkin gets around much better than most folks his age. But that doesn’t mean he’s immune to the challenges that come with growing old at home.
“Getting up a ladder is very challenging, especially if I have to change a light bulb in a high place,” said Norkin, a member of the Thousand Oaks Council on Aging. “As you get older, you realize you can’t do the things you thought you could, like simple repairs around the house.”
ON BOARD—Panelists Susan Poor, Caroline Koskinas and Brandi Orton provide an overview of the village model in California during the City of Thousand Oaks Council on Aging meeting on March 7. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers A new way of living, called “villages,” may help Norkin and other older seniors receive all types of assistance while continuing to live independently in their own homes.
On March 7, the Council on Aging presented a panel discussion on the concept of villages and how the model may be implemented in Thousand Oaks.
The meeting was attended by a standing-room-only crowd in a board room at the Civic Arts Plaza. To accommodate the event’s large turnout, organizers asked about 125 people to watch the panel discussion on a large screen in the Scherr Forum.
“ There has been an overwhelming response to this idea because people are interested in being able to live in their own homes for as long as possible,” Norkin said. “Seniors living in the area don’t have to live in the same building. They can receive assistance but live on different streets in different areas.”
What is a village?
Villages are membership-driven grassroots organizations designed to help aging seniors maintain safe, healthy, independent and socially connected lifestyles while continuing to live in their own homes.
“It’s a movement that builds back communities,” said Brandi Orton, the program director of REAL Connections, a village set to launch in Covina in May.
Orton was one of three guest speakers from California organizations that employ the village philosophy.
Run by a mix of volunteers and paid staff, villages coordinate senior access to affordable services that include transportation, health and wellness programs, home repairs, and educational activities and trips.
“There’s also an aspect of making connections between neighbors and community members,” said Orton, a 29-year-old Covina resident. “Village members volunteer for each other, and outside community members volunteer for village members.”
There are many ways village members can help each other, Orton said.
“If somebody needs transportation and a village member is able to drive, they might assist that person in going to the grocery store or doctor’s office,” she said.
Village members with physical limitations can also help others.
“The people that have higher needs and are more homebound can make daily check-in phone calls to other homebound seniors,” Orton said. “They can assist with writing in the newsletter . . . stuffing envelopes . . . marketing materials . . . everyone can do something.”
Villages also offer vetted and discounted plumbers, electricians, gardeners and other home maintenance providers to ensure seniors receive quality service at reasonable costs.
Help is just a phone call away, said Susan Poor, a founder of the 150- member San Francisco Village.
“If a member wants someone to clean the windows in their house, the village will find them a (discounted) screened provider or volunteer to do that service,” Poor said.
How to form a village
Gathering market research is the first step to forming a village, Orton said.
“We mailed 25,000 surveys to the community to find out if they would use the services, what they would pay for them, what services they are using now and what (services) they anticipate needing in the future,” she said. “I would also recommend holding focus groups so community members can come together to talk about their needs and what their village is to be like.”
Securing funding and establishing community partnerships, Orton said.
“Villages aren’t reinventing the wheel. They’re about bringing services that are already out there together in an easy-to-manage, easy-to-navigate way,” she said.
According to the Village to Village Network, a group that provides assistance to new villages, there are more than 50 villages nationwide and another 120 or so in development. Each organization charges village members a monthly fee, Orton said.
Village fees can run from about $350 to more than $1,000 a year.
“People who want this for themselves have to come together and help build it,” Poor said.
Friends and walking partners Joyce Maxwell, 70, and Laurie Berg, 66, attended the Wednesday meeting. Though the two say they are not ready to become village members now, they might be interested in joining in the future.
“I am childless and without family members who live close by,” said Berg, who owns Tom Anderson Guitar Works in Newbury Park. “This is something that I can still contribute to at this point, and down the road it sounds like there would be some great benefits for me.”
Norkin said he hopes the community will work together to start a village in Thousand Oaks.
“More residents would be able to live in their own community,” he said.
To learn more about the Village to Village network, visit www.vtvnetwork.org.
To support a village in Thousand Oaks, email Andrea Gallagher of Senior Concerns email@example.com.