Chris Holmer, 61, was among about 70 people who attended a community meeting Thursday evening about starting a village for older adults in Lawrence.
“It’s about members identifying a need and then addressing it. I think that’s really powerful,” he said.
A village is a nonprofit organization that’s run by its members, who pay an annual fee. It provides one-stop shopping by having one number to call for services and programs, which are provided for free by volunteers or at discounted rates by vetted providers, which could include plumbers, lawyers, housekeepers and massage therapists.
Then there’s the social aspect where the village can provide exercise or computer classes, trips to museums and plays, or just a place to grab a cup of coffee and talk.
The village concept was started 10 years ago in Boston, and has grown to include 90 villages that are serving more than 10,000 older adults across the country.
Judy Willett, national director of Village to Village Network, gave a presentation about the village concept at the meeting and then answered questions. She emphasized that every village is different and is determined by its members.
She said the size of a village ranges from 150 members to 450 members, and annual fees range from $50 to $900. The average annual fee is $300. Most villages have programs that help with funding for low-income individuals.
Willett said the next step for the Lawrence community would be to expand the organizing group, which has seven members, and to start fundraising. She said most villages raise between $20,000 and $40,000 to get started.
Mitzi McFatrich, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, described the grass-roots effort as fabulous.
“It makes a lot of sense because most of us don’t want to live in assisted living or nursing homes because that’s away from people that we are familiar with. We want to maintain those social networks because they are really important to our mental health,” she said.
McFatrich asked Willett about how services and volunteers are vetted, and was pleased to hear there is a thorough process, which includes an in-person interview, reference check and national criminal check. On someone who is providing transportation services, they check to make sure that person has proper insurance and a good driving record. After a service is provided to a member, the village checks to make sure the member was 100 percent satisfied.
Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman likes the village concept as well and believes it could attract retirees to Lawrence. She thought the turnout was a good indication that there’s a lot of interest in starting one and believes it will succeed.
“When I see the women who are behind it, the organizers, that’s a powerhouse. These are women who know how to get things done,” she said.
Bonnie Uffman, who is spearheading the effort, said she was pleased with the turnout and couldn’t wait to start sorting through the surveys that were handed out to see what kinds of services the community is interested in and if people were interested in becoming a member, volunteer or organizer.
“I will probably be up all night reading the feedback,” she said with a smile.
INTERESTED IN BUILDING A VILLAGE?
If you are interested in starting a village in Lawrence, contact Bonnie Uffman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-0057. She plans to start a village called Eastside Village Lawrence for anyone who lives east of Massachusetts Street, which includes North Lawrence. However, she hopes eventually the entire city is covered by several villages.
If you want to learn more about the village concept, visit Village to Village Network’s website at vtvnetwork.org.
— For more information about the effort, click on the following story: East Lawrence resident leading effort to build a 'village' to help older adults stay at home.