CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- They're called the Village People, but it's not the kind of Village People who belt out "Y.M.C.A."
The Kanawha Valley Village People are part of a national movement devoted to "aging in place." The aim is to coordinate services and support among a group of like-minded older folk so they can remain in their homes and share in their communities as long as possible, without moving into senior housing or assisted living.
"The Village to Village Movement is a movement of people who have determined that the way they want to spend the last chapter of their lives is in their own homes," said James Thibeault, 66.
"If we can encourage this, in some ways it makes a lot of sense that we watch out for one another -- the compassion of our government and our billfolds only go so far," he said.
The numbers are daunting. As Sheri Snelling, founder of the Caregiving Club, wrote in a 2012 article:
"Of those who turned 65 last year, 20 percent will live to age 90, and 1 in every 50 boomer women will reach 100. The quality of their, and our, lives, and where we will all live as we age, are critical questions for our society. In an AARP survey, 90 percent of senior citizens said they wanted to stay in their homes as long as possible, but that puts a potential burden on the family members who will become responsible for managing their care."
Hence, "virtual villages" created and organized and connected locally, socially and digitally.
The first such group, said Thibeault, began in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood around the turn of the century. "Community members banded together and decided their response to long-term care would be supportive of one another."
Since then, there are now more than 125 such groups nationally that are incorporated, many with a staff person. The Kanawha Valley group recently incorporated and has a steering committee of which Thibeault is a member.
The group is moving forward on multiple fronts.
An interim board will be chosen at a meeting in late October. Board members will likely partly include people such as doctors, social workers, a lawyer, a pharmacist -- "people from professions and skills who hopefully can answer members' concerns rather than just a generic board of administrators," said Thibeault.
Each village group has its own personality, he said.
The Kanawha Valley Village people "is mostly retired people and they started to discuss what's retirement going to look like for us," he said. "We have a few people in their '50s, many in their '60s and early '70s, probably a handful in their '80s."
The group meets six times year, puts out a newsletter and has staged a successful fundraiser. The organization had an early partnership with Cabin Creek Health Systems, but the group is moving to become an independent non-profit as quickly as possible aided by steering committee member and lawyer Larry Rowe.
The West Virginia Partnership for Elder Living has supplied a grant of $9,200 for infrastructure, including a computer and supplies, part of a VISTA volunteer's time allocated to the group and other needs.
"At this point, the services are primarily social," Thibeault said. "There is a telephone tree that people check on each other. There is a book club that's forming -- there are social meetings that include informational type of stuff."
"Crisis Casseroles" come into play to provide simple meals delivered to members' doors when there is a medical emergency or family crisis.
The last meeting also featured a doctor, social worker and pharmacist offering information on how to prepare your medical information in a convenient, up-to-date form. Plus, the significance of preparing a final directive like a living will and creating a medical power of attorney was stressed.
Longer than otherwise
Hazel Palmer, age 67, was born Jan 1, 1946, and "so I was one of the first boomers."
She is one of the steering committee members for Kanawha Valley Village People, a group she sees as both social and practical for her and her husband, John, 68.