In Hillary Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village,” the former Secretary of State is referring to an African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But the same could be said of helping seniors “age in place.”
At least, that’s the premise of Villages Clark County, a nonprofit group that promotes a community approach to helping seniors and disabled adults be able to live safely and securely in their own homes for as long as possible.
“It’s a new approach to aging,” says Villages Clark County Chair John Chapman.
The model requires three pools of neighbors: the volunteers who donate their services; the associate members who support the program with monthly dues but don’t yet need help in their own homes; and full members, who pay a monthly fee to have access to a range of volunteers ready to help with things like fixing a broken kitchen cabinet, mowing the lawn, getting a ride to the doctor’s office or carrying a heavy load of laundry up and down a staircase.
“We like to say we’re ‘neighbors helping neighbors stay neighbors,'” Chapman, himself an associate member of the group, said. “We help people who can afford to stay independent, but who can’t always do everything for themselves.”
John Treosti, of Hazel Dell, volunteers for the new Villages Clark County group and said helping others gives him a sense of satisfaction.
“The people are always so friendly and appreciative,” Treosti says of the folks he’s helped by mowing their lawns and taking bags of donations to a local drop-off site. “It makes me feel good to help.”
Chapman said he gravitated toward the Villages model of community service after moving to Vancouver from Florida in 2015. There are other “Villages” throughout the nation. In the Portland-Vancouver metro area there are 10, including Villages Clark County, which formed earlier this year. A parent organization, Villages NW, oversees the nonprofit operations for all of the “Villages” in the Pacific Northwest.
The Clark County group is still “a baby,” Chapman says, but membership is steadily growing, and he has fielded calls from people in Camas and Washougal wondering if there is a neighborhood network of volunteers yet established in those cities.
Although the nonprofit covers the whole county, Chapman said the model works better when there is a pool of nearby volunteers.
“That’s why we’re reaching out to people in East Clark County,” Chapman said. “We would like to have more volunteers in that area.”
The group will present an information event to let people know what Villages Clark County is all about from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Camas Police Department Community Room, 2100 N.E. Third Ave., Camas.
Chapman hopes potential members and volunteers will attend the Oct. 12 presentation to learn about the benefits of living in a community where seniors can stay in their homes and neighborhoods during their golden years.
“We’re not against assisted living — some people need that — but for people who feel like they’re being forced into it, it’s not good,” Chapman said. “They can become very isolated.”
Although Villages Clark County volunteers cannot help with medical needs or major home projects, they can assist seniors and disabled adults with the types of everyday chores that get harder to accomplish as people age.
Chapman said the group also is looking for volunteers willing to work one or two hours a week to help members with chores such as yard and garden care; short-term pet care; minor maintenance work; running errands; getting to appointments; organizing around the house; and doing everyday tasks such as spot cleaning, putting away groceries and emptying waste baskets. Some members simply want volunteers who can come and make social visits to talk, read, play games or bake cookies. Others are seeking volunteers who can help them figure out their computers, home electronics or smartphones.
“The jobs don’t take too much time in most cases,” Chapman said. “If everyone could give a couple hours a week, that would work.”
As a 100-percent volunteer-run organization, Villages Clark County also is in need of some behind-the-scenes volunteer help.
“We could use people who want to ‘manage the village,'” Chapman said. “We could really use some technical assistance, with our website, social media (sites) and making sure our newsletter gets uploaded.”
The group is open to volunteers who want to work from home “behind the scenes” perhaps searching for grant opportunities, helping put together the newsletters the group sends to members and volunteers or helping get the word out to the greater community.
“We do have a vetting process so our members and volunteers are safe,” Chapman added.
Volunteers go through a background check before working with members in their homes, and drivers have to go through a training program and have their vehicle inspected before giving rides to members. Likewise, the group tries to ensure that members’ homes are safe for the volunteers and will vet members before allowing them access to in-home volunteers.
The group also hopes to provide members with social and cultural opportunities and is seeking volunteers to do a variety of activities with members, such as attending concerts and plays; visiting museums or gardens; quilting or knitting; taking part in book clubs or author presentations; and venturing out on day trips to Clark County area parks, fairs and other attractions.
For Chapman and Treosti, both of whom are in their retirement years and facing a potential need for full membership someday, the Villages model of “neighbors helping neighbors stay neighbors” is a no-brainer, the men said.
“It just makes so much sense,” Chapman said of the aging-in-place model. “No one can rely just on themselves. We need to rely on each other. And this helps the whole community.”
The Clark County Commission on Aging would likely agree.
“The number of older adults will dramatically increase over the next 10 years,” the Commission recently stated in a press release related to aging in place in Clark County. “Transforming how we think about the value of an aging population and how communities position themselves to harness the tremendous resource older adults provide will be beneficial for us all.”
The Commission will focus on the importance of engaging people age 65 and older within each community at a meeting slated for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, in the sixth-floor hearing room of the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver. That meeting will be shown live on CVTV, Channel 23, and will be available online at cvtv.org.
For more information about Villages Clark County, visit villagesc larkcounty.org or vill agesnw.org. For more information on the Clark County Commission on Aging, visit clark.wa.gov/aging.