One of the scary prospects about getting old is no longer being able to stay in your own home.
A small, but growing number of older Americans, however, are remaining in their homes thanks to a movement called virtual retirement villages. Belonging to a virtual village connects members to dozens of vetted and discounted services they might need, as well as access to social and cultural events and other members who volunteer to help with all sorts of chores from dog walking to mowing the lawn. The virtual villages are largely volunteer organizations that are focused on keeping elderly Americans in their homes rather than going to assisted-living facilities. They are also a way for older Americans to maintain friendships and make new ones.
There are roughly 140 villages located in 40 states, according to the Village to Village Network that helps create and manage them. These grassroots villages, which got started in Boston in 2002, are located in cities and suburbs, as well as in some rural communities. Another 120 virtual villages are on the drawing board. Neighbors helping neighbors is a core value of these communities that are governed by their members. Members benefit from other members volunteering to do such chores as driving to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping and yard work. Members can connect through Twitter, Facebook and email, as well as in person. The villages, through their members, also create plenty of social and cultural opportunities including exercise classes, potlucks, happy hours, educational seminars and trips. Member fees, foundations and charitable contributions are ways that villages fund themselves. Considering how valuable the villages are, the virtual village fees are low. The average yearly membership is roughly $450. In a TEDx talk in Boston, Judy Willett, the national director of the Village to Village Network, said that these virtual villages, which have also spread to countries overseas, represent an international movement that provides critical connections to older Americans and helps give their lives meaning. “As human beings we never lose the desire that we belong, that we are in control of our lives and that we’re part of something,” Willett said. “When it comes right down to it, there is probably nothing that matters more.”
Here is where you can watch Willett’s TEDx talk on virtual villages You can also learn more about the topic by tuning into a NBC Nightly News story that featured anchor Brian Williams interviewing his elderly in-laws who belong to a virtual village back East. Also check out a recent New York Times article on the virtual village movement. If you’re interested in joining a village, you can search for existing communities by using the directory on Village to Village Network’s website. On the website you will also find advice about how to create a new virtual village.