I've followed (with great interest) the spread of the "Village" concept—non-profit membership organizations that help seniors stay safe, comfortable and active in their own homes, for as long as possible. A recent AARP survey indicated that 88 percent of seniors want just that—to age happily in place.

I didn't think I needed the services of the Village in my beloved Palisades. I have a young couple for housemates; my son and daughter live in the area and frequently remind me that they can help; I have an arrangement with a young friend up the street who acts as my chauffeur; I can afford to hire a gardener and other helpers I occasionally need.

A few days ago, I attended a meeting in a neighbor's home where Palisades Village's executive director provided information on their services. I don't need—yet—everything that full members receive, but I learned the Village also offers associate memberships that give seniors access to all the social and cultural events—but not the services—offered to full members.

It was a timely discovery, in light of my advancing Parkinson's. I've cut way back on my driving, now limiting outings to places in the immediate neighborhood—the shopping center, the entrance to Battery Kemble Park with its wonderful wooded trails, and the scenic street overlooking the Potomac's DC and Virginia palisades, where I love to walk. These destinations are only a few minutes by car from my house.

It's terrific to have all these benefits. But I won't be visiting museums and galleries like before, or regularly attending special events that occur around the nation's capital all the time. Now, the Palisades Village can fill that gap and introduce me to more of my neighbors. Having this new option confirms that the Palisades is as close to heaven as I'm likely to get.

Villages make it easier to age-in-place

Seniors don't want to just get old, become sick and feel isolated. We prefer to avoid nursing homes and assisted living facilities. We want to stay at home—being as active, vibrant and connected as we can be.

In 2001, seniors in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood created the Village concept. Their activity evolved into an independent nonprofit organization governed by members and supported by membership dues and donations.

The Beacon Hill Village (BHV) hired an executive director to respond to members' service requests, develop agreements with providers willing to serve BHV members at a discount, and coordinate a pool of volunteers who could assist members with shopping and transportation.

The BHV concept spread, slowly at first, then rapidly. According to Village to Village—a national umbrella organization—there were 50 registered villages in 2010, and 124 this year.

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Washington: a city of villages

Nowhere are senior villages spreading faster than in the Washington DC area. There were five in 2010; now there are 40—either up and running or in development. The growth around here makes sense in light of the area's transient population, with relatives often living far away.

An article in the Washington Post suggested the villages work particularly well here because the area attracts so many government and nonprofit workers. The story quoted Andy Mollison, vice president of the Washington Area Villages Exchange (also founder and past president of the Palisades Village): "Washington has always been a hot bed of volunteer activities. People who have been running things all their lives, whether it’s PTAs or local food drives."

The Palisades Village

At Monday night's gathering in my neighborhood, Peggy Newman—executive director of Palisades Village—talked about what the organization offered and sold me on signing on as an associate member.

Full members receive a wide range of services, such as:

  • Handyman chores
  • Friendly visits and contact calls
  • Errands
  • Reading to the sightly impaired
  • Referrals to vetted paid contractors
  • Shopping with members
  • General transportation
  • Medical transportation
  • Gardening and yard clean-up
  • Assistance with electronics and paperwork
  • Walking buddies
  • Checking in during a weather emergency

This last service was provided several times during this year's winter-that-wouldn't-end. A telephone tree of volunteers made sure every full member was contacted during major snow storms and Peggy came close to breaking into the house of a member who couldn't be reached by telephone.

The visitor program for homebound members can get very creative.

One member—recovering from a stroke—loves babies and dogs. One volunteer visits that member every week . . . with her dog. Another volunteer drops by with her infant son. Another Village senior loves music and conversing in German, his native tongue. So, a German-speaking volunteer visits regularly. They chat together in the mother tongue and she plays her flute for him.

What sold me

Knowing little of the village concept, I'd thought that providing these services was essentially the mission. But Peggy went on to describe the social and cultural offerings available to both full and associate members:

Social contact

  • Group meals
  • Informational panel discussions
  • Weekly yoga group meetings
  • Storytelling group meetings twice a month
  • Monthly book club meetings
  • Monthly Scrabble club meetings

Cultural series

  • Presentations
  • Museum tours that feature meetings with curators and behind-the-scenes looks
  • Lunch concerts

After Peggy's talk, I asked the first question: "What's it cost?" Annual dues are:

  • $500 for a full membership ($750 for a household, e.g. husband and wife are both members)\
  • $250 ($200 of which is tax deductible) for an associate membership.

My check is in the mail!!! For more information, check Palisades Village's website.