November 17th, 2011 at 11:49 am
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“Villages” provide support for elders to remain at home

by Dorian Martin

Many years ago, the familiar catch phrase going around was, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Now there’s a new way to think about this phrase. While in-home care is commonly used to help elders remain in their homes, a new movement is currently afoot to create villages of support for elders who want to remain in their homes.

Keeping elders in their homes

A “village” is a grassroots organization that is driven by the needs of elders who are members. These organizations, which rely on membership fees, grants and donations to cover costs and are run by volunteers and/or paid staff, assist elders with affordable services, including transportation, health and wellness programs, social and educational activities, and trips.

Village to Village Network is assisting communities across the United States in establishing and managing villages. Currently, the United States’ Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions have the most significant number of villages, although a large number of villages are popping up in California. Other states with villages that are either functioning or in development include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

I really like the idea of these villages, especially as someone who watched from afar as my elderly parents increasingly struggled. Like many in our generation, my brother and I moved away after high school to seek our dreams. While my parents stayed in West Texas, my brother ended up in Colorado and after a series of moves, I settled close to Houston. These moves didn’t seem problematic at first, but when you leap 25-30 years into the future and suddenly have elderly parents, you start to see fraying in the support net for elders. For instance, who could my father call to let the dog out when he’s waiting for hours in the hospital emergency room while Mom suffers the latest repercussions from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? Who changes the light bulb when both of my parents are too unsteady to climb on top of the step ladder? Who helps lift Mom’s heavy oxygen machine into my parents’ minivan when Dad can no longer do so because of his bad back?

A recent Associated Press story noted that villages are unavailable to most elderly Americans and questions exist about these organizations’ long-term viability. Still, I believe villages do offer a compelling example of how we all can–and should–work together to support our community’s elders.

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