Re: The Villager Movement
From: Raines Cohen (
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 2020 08:08:21 -0700 (PDT)

It sounds like you may be referring to the “Beacon Hill Village” movement,
aka the Village movement (or “Village to Village” aka v2v, the name of the
national mutual-support network of Villages, like Coho/US is to cohousing
neighborhoods), in which area seniors self-organize community support
designed to help them with “aging in place” so they don’t have to leave
their homes and neighborhoods as they get older.

Like cohousing, it is a grassroots movement, led by members, but no housing
development or ownership is involved. I noticed the resemblance to the
community organizing in our communities, especially organic or “retrofit”
cohousing, in which folks build connection with neighbors where they live.

It started with one in the Beacon Hill neighborhood in Boston,
Massachusetts, and spread, now with hundreds around the country. I’ve been
participating in their conferences over the past 15 years, and volunteering
with my local community, Ashby Village in Berkeley, California.

(There is some institutional housing for seniors that also uses the
“village” name in its branding; that is not related to this model)

In some ways it is like a church or synagogue or religious institution,
helping its members take care of each other and providing a social context.

The idea is that members pool funds (typically $500-1000 per member per
year) to create a not-for-profit organization (aka NGO), hire staff and
rent an office, and/or volunteer (given that many founders are retired and
have skills and life experience) to organize services like:

* Transportation so members don’t have to keep a car or risk driving
(sometimes partnering with taxi services, sometimes hiring a driver).
Especially important for older members with mobility challenges and risks
of falling is to provide “through the door” service at both ends of a trip,
helping someone in and out of a car and walking them in, to prevent falls.
* A “concierge” referral service for home services so that members can get
safe, prompt quality services, be it for plumbing or home health attendants
or whatever folks need. A service provider is much more likely to be
attentive to a senior’s needs when they know that thousands of other jobs
may or may not come their way based on a single review.
* Accompanying members for medical appointments to help take notes /
remember doctor instructions, and make sure they are communicating
effectively with providers..
* Technical training and assistance with using technology
* Support groups, special-interest classes, physical activities, and social
* Helping communicate with family members to engage appropriate assistance
when they can no longer maintain independence.

But much of this, sometimes branded as a paid service, misses what Alan O
calls “the secret ingredient” of cohousing: community. People getting
together and regularly talking to each other and inspiring and organizing
is the true value of ventures like this.

The opportunity to be of service and help others and see that they are not
different and needy both gives members a purpose AND makes them better able
to ACCEPT help, and ASK FOR IT when they need it, rather than waiting until
after they are forced to. It also motivates people to take preventive steps
to stay healthy, independent and able.

Like cohousing, it is about maintaining independence through
interdependence. That’s why I included it in the “Aging in Community”
chapter I wrote for the book Audacious Aging a decade ago, and have been
working to weave connections between the Village movement and cohousing:
* Villages can be on-ramps that lead to creating senior cohousing
* Senior and intergenerational communities can partner with and learn from
Villages to help meet their residents’ needs as they age.

At first the connection seemed more tenuous, as the Village movement
branding is all about “staying in your own home,” not being forced to leave
the neighborhood, and staying independent. But over time members start to
perceive their own collective capacity and see the direct benefit of
building to meet their needs, rather than paying service providers to drive
around to provide little bits of help here and there.

Capitol Hill Village in Washington, DC has plans to build a senior
cohousing neighborhood, and others are exploring similar ventures. I
believe that Villages can be a great tool for helping people through the
steps to organize cohousing creation.

In some ways it is a community-self-help model, and the first communities
were led by more affluent members that had the resources to fund service
provision and coordination. It has since grown and organized some
scholarships and business/service provider partnerships to reduce barriers
to entry, but, like cohousing, it remains generally less diverse and richer
than the potential membership population at large.

I imagine that in many other countries there is a richer social-support net
that makes this kind of venture less necessary, versus the fragmented
system here in which a confusing mix of different local, state and federal
agencies provides limited services to only the neediest, in ways that
people need help to navigate.

I am enthused that Village groups have started lobbying and advocating for
systems change, reform in laws and practices that make aging harder than it
should be. They can leverage the outsized political influence of elders to
do good, expand support networks to cover everybody, and make Villages
better able to focus on the social side of their work.

Raines Cohen, Cohousing Coach and Certified Senior Advisor
Aging-in-Community Author & Sage-Ing Intern
at Berkeley (CA) Cohousing

On Wed, Aug 19, 2020 at 6:17 AM David Mencher <menchers [at]> wrote:

> Hi All,
> Some of us here in Israel have been wondering about a community building
> project called the Villager Movement, which seems particularly suited for
> Seniors.  Is anyone familiar with this movement and can you direct me to
> contacts ?
> Thanks
> David

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