Article Series

The Village Movement and the 2010 National Village Gathering

Article submitted by Arnie Snyder, Littleton, Colorado.

At certain times in history, the environment is just right for a bold social undertaking to thrive. The seed of an innovative idea takes root in the firm, fertile soil of local community. It is nurtured by thoughtful people who are passionate about its potential to respond to deep and urgent need. As the concept matures and re-produces in one community after another, a national movement is born.

One such phenomenon is now occurring in the grassroots village movement, also known as aging in community. People are uniting in groups whose purpose is to reach out to the elderly in the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors. In the process, older people are integrated within a valuable community that enables them to remain safely and securely in their own homes as they – and millions of their peers – grow older.

What is a village, and why is this a movement?

A village is a local association that gives older people the ability to live within a supportive network as they age. Members benefit from a wealth of local resources: caring volunteers for transportation or simple chores; social activities; educational events, and; reliable vendors for home maintenance or services. Many members are volunteers too, giving of their time and talent as they are able. Each of the more than 50 villages in the U.S. offers a unique arrangement of services at a reasonable annual cost. All share the goal of giving older people a practical alternative to moving out of their homes.
See also “Aging in Community Neighborhoods: Bringing New Life to Aging.” – Click Here.

Does an elderly person need a ride to the doctor or to physical therapy? A day out with peers to go shopping? Would she benefit from closer connection and contact with neighbors through regular get-togethers? How about some help with a household project, like programming a digital TV or assembling an exercise bike? If he or she belongs to a village, it’s part of the package. All it takes is a call to the village phone number.

Best known of the first independently-supported villages is Boston’s 450-member Beacon Hill Village, launched in 2001. It didn’t take long for news of their venture to spread. Even as BHV worked on its own learning curve, requests for advice rang in from distant cities.

Beacon Hill Village responded with a founders’ manual for start-ups; then, in 2007, their first national conference, where BHV shared its knowledge with 250 conferees. Eight villages – a few still in the pre-startup stage -- were invited to join BHV at the podium and share their experience and wisdom. Over the next couple of years, villages began to spring up around the country.

In 2009, Village to Village Network (VtV) was formed, opening for membership in January 2010. The mission of this peer-to-peer network is “to enable communities to establish, and effectively manage, aging in community organizations initiated and inspired by their members.” VtV Network is a partnership of Beacon Hill Village and NCB Capital Impact, a national, non-profit community development organization.

The 2010 National Village Gathering

On November 11-12, in Philadelphia, the 2010 National Village Gathering will develop the theme, “Your Voice, Your Vision, Your Village.” The conference will be attended by representatives of currently-open villages from across the U.S. These will be joined by like-minded conferees whose own villages are just getting started, as well as those who are researching options. It’s the perfect place to share knowledge and experience and to provide mutual support and encouragement. The gathering is a community of communities.

Attendance at this national event is open to anyone who is interested in learning about “best practices” for villages. The two-day agenda will include expert presentations, panel discussions by currently-open villages, an open discussion with representatives from the 50 first villages, and exhibits. Author Suzanne Braun Levine will speak at the General Session Welcome on Thursday. Former NY Times journalist Jane Gross will deliver the Keynote Address on Friday.

Conferees will gather from around the country, then scatter to their respective homes and cities to sow the seeds for the next generation of villages. Surely the seeds will thrive, making communities everywhere a better place for older people and their neighbors to live.

For more information or to register, go to www.vtvnetwork.org.

© 2010, All Rights Reserved by O. Arnold Snyder