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It takes a village

'Aging in place villages' catch on in Portland (no, they're not housing developments)


More than two dozen aging-in-place villages already exist in California, so when Chana Andler moved from there to Mount Tabor neighborhood several years ago, she was surprised to find that Portland had none.by: PHOTO: MERRY MACKINNON - Mount Tabor resident and Eastside Village PDX founder Chana Andler, along with Villages NW Board Member Sharon Nielson (right), recently presented information about aging-in-place villages to a group of seniors at the Hollywood Senior Center.

“I thought there would be villages in Portland,” Andler recalled.

Contrary to its name, aging-in-place villages are not about housing developments. Started 15 years ago in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood by older, mostly female residents who wanted to age in their own homes, an aging-in-place village is a concept.

“They did not want to live in assisted living or, even, in independent living for seniors,” Andler said. “And, for those who had children, they did not want their children to become their caregivers.”

In Portland, Andler began organizing a village after reading an article about them in AARP Magazine that said, “Do you want to start a village in your neighborhood?”

Having worked as a marketing director for a large social service nonprofit group, Andler has the skills and — as a woman in her 50s — the motivation to move the village concept forward in Portland. She founded Portland’s first village, which includes her own and 11 surrounding neighborhoods. Called Eastside Village, PDX, the grassroots organization covers an area in Southeast Portland that, according to U.S. Census data, in 2010 had more than 10,000 residents over the age of 65 and around 23,000 boomers. Eastside Village, PDX should open later in 2014.

There are about 115 aging-in-place villages nationwide and another 150 in development. Often initiated by a group of older adults meeting in someone’s living room, the village plan first identifies a geographic area encompassing a sufficient number of senior residents interested in cost-effective ways to age in place. Then, the organizers must raise enough money to cover recruitment of members and volunteers and the first year of the village’s operating expenses. The more members participating, the more services offered.

The village relies largely on volunteers, who are background checked and trained, to perform tasks an aging parent might normally ask an adult child to do, such as drive to a doctor’s appointment, mow the grass or stand on a ladder to change a light bulb. A central office staffed with a manager and volunteer recruiter responds to requests by members for services.

“The number one request in all villages is transportation,” Andler said.

Along with homeowners, membership is open to renters and to younger adults with disabilities. Members pay a monthly fee for services that include negotiated group discounts for home repairs by vetted vendors and caregivers, along with social activities such as outings to restaurants and movies, field trips and lectures.

Under the nonprofit umbrella Villages NW, Andler and others also have been coaching a variety of Portland-area neighborhoods on how to develop their own villages.

With Elders In Action, AARP and Ride Connection represented in its advisory group and a $1,500 Small Neighborhood Grant from Southeast Uplift, Village NW sponsors informational open meetings at Southeast Uplift, local senior centers and elsewhere.

Membership fees vary, but Eastside Village, PDX members likely will pay $600 per year for a single person and $840 for a couple, Andler said. Since single women are most at risk for living in poverty as they age, Eastside Village may set aside a number of membership scholarships for low-income women.

“It’s popular for children to buy their parents village memberships,” Andler said. “Villages are important solutions for children with aging parents.”