LeadingAge Magazine · September/October 2015 • Volume 05 • Number 05

When Aging-Services Providers and Villages Work Together

September 13, 2015 | by Dianne Molvig

The “village model” of member-driven, grass-roots neighborhood organizations is gaining in popularity. These aging-services providers are partnering with villages to help make aging in place easier for seniors.

Aging-services providers and the “Village” movement have vastly different roots and histories. The former have evolved from the “homes for the aged” that emerged in the 19th century into today’s wide range of choices in types of residential communities, plus community-based services.

Villages, on the other hand, date back to 2001, when a group of friends and neighbors in Boston gathered to explore ways to help each other not just “age in place” but also “age in community.” The result was Beacon Hill Village, a not-for-profit entity in which members pay dues that allow them to provide themselves and each other needed support and services as they grow older. Some 200 such groups now belong to the Village to Village Network.

While their beginnings differ, aging-services providers and villages share a common goal: to help older adults thrive and live well as they age.

Now, LeadingAge member organizations and villages are combining forces. They have learned that, far from being competitors in meeting older adults’ needs, they can collaborate to accomplish much more together than they could separately.

Each organization benefits as a result. And most importantly, older adults have better access to the right kind of services, at the right time and place, to enhance their quality of life.

When Community Senior Services in Claremont, CA, began to think about creating a village for seniors living at home, CEO Floy Biggs talked to other aging-services leaders in the community. Among them was Greg Hirst, executive director of Claremont Manor, a multi-level retirement community.

“I’d known Floy for years,” Hirst says. “It seemed natural for us to work together on this. At the beginning, they needed some help, and we were there.”

Thus began a relationship that’s now existed for three years between Claremont Manor and REAL (REsources for Ageless Living) Connections, as the village came to be called.

Seniors who join REAL Connections have access to various services: transportation; wellness programs; a network of pre-screened vendors, such as home repair companies offering special discounts and value-added services; social and cultural events; “personal assistance” convenience services, such as pet-sitting, waiting for a repairperson and light housekeeping; and more.

Indeed, Claremont Manor’s help makes it possible for some people to join REAL Connections in the first place. “In the last three years,” Hirst explains, “we’ve provided a total of $15,000 to help pay membership fees for people who need REAL Connection’s services, but can’t afford the fee,” which is currently $570 per year for an individual, $780 for a household.

Claremont Manor’s subsidy for village memberships comes from a special fund of Front Porch, the organization’s parent organization, designated to assist community programs benefiting older adults.

Another way Claremont Manor benefits REAL Connections’ members is by providing 22 of them with free meals delivered to their homes by REAL Connections volunteers twice a week. Claremont Manor’s dietician also is available to village members to consult and teach classes on nutrition. Plus, Claremont Manor residents volunteer to help the village do its work.

“We’re always looking for other ways we can collaborate together to help support the village concept that operates so successfully in this area,” Hirst says. In fact, he sees possibilities for other Front Porch communities to build relationships with villages in their area.

The benefits from the partnership flow in both directions, Hirst points out. REAL Connections gains access to resources and funding it wouldn’t otherwise have, while Claremont Manor meets its mission of improving the lives of all seniors in the local community, not just its residents.

“Community Senior Services and REAL Connections also provide expertise and community contacts we don’t have directly,” Hirst adds. “That’s the knitting they do. So it’s symbiotic for us to work together to meet the same goals and the same mission.”

North Shore Village, which launched five years ago in Evanston, IL, did so with the help of LeadingAge member Mather Lifeways, also based in Evanston. The latter had been approached by the village’s 2 founding members a year earlier, says Kate Paz, director, programs without walls for Mather Lifeways.

“They wanted to start a village and asked what we could do for them,” says Paz. “We decided to support it by funding the salary of the executive director and providing office space. While we don’t sit on their board, we do attend meetings, and sometimes [help with] their marketing pieces, but really, they have done everything on their own.”

The goal, says Paz, is for North Shore Village to eventually be financially self-sustainable.

North Shore Village serves about 340 people now, with a high concentration of its volunteers hailing from Evanston and Wilmette, an adjacent suburb of Chicago.

The two organizations have numerous ties, according to Betsie Sassen, Mather LifeWays vice president, community initiatives. About 12 North Shore Village members have moved into The Mather, including the village’s board president. North Shore Village’s main office is housed in the Mather LifeWays headquarters. Though Mather LifeWays funds the executive director’s salary, North Shore Village has a member services engagement manager position that it funds itself.

“Our missions are aligned. Mather LifeWays mission is to ‘Create Ways to Age Well,’ and we think this model is a way to create ways to age well," says Paz. "One thing we most enjoy about this relationship is seeing people and communities band together and reinvigorate a sense of community. As people age in place, they don’t have the connections they once did because children grew up and moved away.”

Sassen says the key to such a relationship “is about the organization being able to suppress its ego if you will. We’re a partner and have some influence, but it stays grass-roots. North Shore Village does acknowledge us in its materials but it’s just not plastered all over it. If you want to be a partner it’s important to be cognizant of the beauty of the villages and be willing to be in background.”

Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill, NC, strives to blend the right mix of “hands-on and hands-off” in its relationship with Carolina Villages, says Heather Altman, director of community connections for Carol Woods.

“We have provided the support that Carolina Villages has wanted and requested,” Altman says. “We understand that they are an emerging nonprofit, so it’s important to give them the space they need to create their own culture and sense of identity.”

The two entities’ partnership dates back about six years, when a group of Chapel Hill seniors started to investigate forming a village. They approached Carol Woods for support—a request that came as no surprise, Altman points out.

“We have a strong reputation for being focused on helping programs for older adults out in the broader community,” she explains. “It’s been part of the fabric of who we are as an organization for 35 years.”

Carol Woods was instrumental in helping the village get ready to launch. The CCRC provided one of its staff to work 20 hours a week directly with the village organizers to develop a strategic plan. Carol Woods also paid for a national village expert to come in for consultations.

The collaboration to assist in planning and moving the village toward its goals continues today. In 2013, Altman joined the village’s board, for which she later was elected to be vice president and currently president. Several Carol Woods’ staff members volunteer at Carolina Villages, as do residents.

Whether they volunteer or not, Carol Woods’ residents are highly supportive of their CCRC’s efforts on behalf of the village. “People know we’re community-minded,” Altman says. “I think that’s one of the reasons why our residents choose us.”

Her advice to any aging services organization contemplating a partnership with a village is to “sit down and come to an alignment about your missions,” she says. “Then look for ways to help each other meet your goals.”

An easy way for a service provider to start, Altman suggests, is to provide meeting space for people to discuss their village plans, supply refreshments at those meetings, copy documents and give other forms of tangible support.

Support, whatever form it may take, can be vital to the success of a village. And for Carol Woods, being involved in Carolina Villages follows a long tradition of commitment to the broader community.

“The CCRC model is not for everyone,” Altman says. “So this is a way for us to make a difference for the majority of older adults in our community.”

Here is a video about Carolina Villages:

Iona Senior Services in Washington, DC, “gets” the village concept. In fact, “We think of ourselves as the original village,” says Deb Rubenstein, director of consultation, care management and counseling. “Throughout our 40-year-history, we’ve been providing the kinds of services the villages now provide their members.”

That’s not to say that the nearly 50 villages in the DC area are taking clients away from Iona Senior Services. Quite the contrary. Rubenstein points out that her organization can’t begin to meet the needs of all seniors in the area.

Thus, partnering with villages is a natural fit, she says. “We think supporting villages is a way to further our mission because this model of neighbors serving neighbors is such a valuable and important one.”

Iona Senior Services’ role is to be a resource the villages can call upon for expertise and resources. For instance, villages often struggle with deciding what to do when a member’s needs increase and the village has difficulty meeting those needs. In such situations, village leaders can seek out the care management expertise of a designated village social worker on Iona’s staff.

This year’s LeadingAge Annual Meeting and Expo, scheduled for Nov. 1-4 in Boston, MA, will feature more than 190 educational sessions on a wide variety of topics that challenge our field. There will be one session related to the topic of this article:

Wednesday, Nov. 4

  • 80-G. Strategic Relationships Between Senior Living Providers and Villages

Click on “Education Program” at the meeting website to learn about the many forms of education available, investigate specific sessions or download the whole meeting brochure.

As another example, a village member may feel overwhelmed by the demands of caring for a spouse with memory loss. Enrolling the spouse in Iona’s adult day health program could provide the caregiver with the respite she needs.

Iona Senior Services also has assisted villages in training their volunteers. It made available the training manual used for Iona’s “friendly visitor” program. Then a couple of years ago, one village approached Iona for help in developing a new type of training.

The village has volunteers who drive members to their medical appointments. But village leaders recognized a need for those volunteers to be trained in medical note-taking, as well, so there would be a complete, accurate record of what transpired during the appointment. Sometimes members didn’t remember or comprehend everything the doctor said.

To create the medical note-taker training, a social worker and a nurse from Iona worked with the village. That training is now a resource for the entire Washington Area Village Exchange, and it soon may become available nationwide through the Village to Village network.

That project is just one illustration of the “incredible creativity” of villages, Rubenstein points out. This particular village, for instance, thought of a solution—medical note-taking—that Iona staff hadn’t considered before.

To engage with villages, aging services organizations have to listen to a village’s vision of what it’s trying to do, Rubenstein emphasizes. “We have something to offer to villages certainly,” she says. “But we have to recognize that the villages themselves have their own strengths and their own expertise. It’s important to respect that.”

Editor’s note: LeadingAge California recently published a white paper, “Strategic Relationships between Senior Living Providers and Villages,” as a resource for members who have or are thinking about relationships with Villages, or any other grassroots community service organization. LeadingAge California interviewed senior living providers and villages around the country to produce the report. Download the white paper here.

LeadingAge Thrive provides resources to help members better serve seniors and their communities. The seven major topic areas in Thrive include questions designed to stimulate discussion among your leadership team and board of directors. Thrive also includes resources such as white papers, articles, tools, presentations and business intelligence.

Under the “Community Involvement and Engagement” section of Thrive, see the resources connected to these questions:
  • Do we have a community service plan that defines the community served (both in geographic boundaries and target population) and identifies unmet needs?
  • Does our organization’s planning and budgeting process address ways we will prioritize unmet needs in the community?
  • Do we have a process for reporting social accountability activities that includes quantifying our organization’s community engagement and incorporating information on community engagement throughout our organization’s communications?
  • Does our organization conduct a community needs assessment to identify unmet needs within the greater community?
  • Do we offer assistance to other communities who may need help in serving their residents/clients?

Under the “Strategic Partnerships” section of Thrive, see the resources connected to these questions:

  • Do we engage in partnerships and collaborations with other organizations to study, develop and offer new service/care models and practices to improve the quality of aging services and care?
  • Do we pursue business ventures with partners that have the knowledge, expertise and capacity to improve the services we provide to residents and clients, or services that support our organization?

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Visit the Thrive main page.