In 2001, Boston residents came together and created a model for seniors who want the lifestyle and amenities of living in a senior community, but who wish to stay in their own homes. They call their nonprofit Beacon Hill Village, and it is the next big trend in senior lifestyle. Beacon Hill Village is a group of volunteers and service providers who combine services to aid seniors in central Boston. From college students who volunteer to help with computer tech issues to dog-walkers, Beacon Hill Village has a wide menu of services that cater to every need a senior may have. Additional services include rides to medical appointments, lectures by local academics, writers and artists, dog-walking services, housekeeping, grocery shopping, social outings, day trips, breakfasts and many more activities. With an eye toward an active, engaged retirement, Beacon Hill not only enables seniors to stay ensconced in their neighborhoods and communities, it also provides a level and quality of choice about lifestyle that is unusual for seniors. The annual membership covers the cost of services, and is offered on a sliding scale for those who can’t afford the program.
Since its founding in 2001, Beacon Hill has inspired more than 100 communities to form “villages” all over the United States, with two in Australia and one in Finland. The national network is called Village to Village. Village to Village offers resources for those interested in starting a village in their communities. The village movement fits well with the growing demographic of seniors, who are healthier longer, live longer, and retire earlier. These are seniors who have deep connections to their neighborhoods and communities, who want to stay in the house where they raised their children, maintain their gardens, keep ties with their neighbors. These seniors are often volunteers themselves, helping out with neighborhood and community projects, and they want to stay active.
Jon Shaughnessy of Bellingham, WA is organizing one such village in our area. “My wife and I saw a clip on PBS New Hour that showed Beacon Hill Village. We thought it would be perfect for Bellingham, and perfect for us.” From that moment of inspiration, Jon formed a steering committee and began a database of members that has now reached 125. With our area’s commitment to volunteerism, our excellent senior care and our growing graying population, Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Anacortes and many communities in our area would be ideal places to start a village. “Most communities start by creating an exploratory committee to see if the village is even feasible. We were able to skip that step. Bellingham is long overdue for something like this.” And though organizing volunteers and services for hundreds of people seems daunting, Shaughnessy seems up to the task. His group will be hosting a meeting at the Bellingham Senior Center on Halleck St. on April 7th.
The village model is also ideal for seniors who live far away from family. They can stay community-focused and get excellent care, without having to call on a loved one. Some villages offer a menu of services and levels of membership, so even people in residential retirement communities could participate in the social activities or travel programs without subscribing to unnecessary services. In other words, seniors can tailor the program to meet their individual needs. And that kind of freedom of choice is what the village is all about.