If you’re getting up there in age and are nearing retirement, the thought of planning and preparing for your own care in old age may seem daunting. Fortunately, there’s a growing movement out there that strives to make “golden years” living easier, less disruptive to people and their families, and less scary.
There are many New Jersey assisted living facilities and nursing homes in business today to serve the aging population and provide quality care. See https://www.newsweek.com/best-nursing-homes-2020/best-nursing-homes-new-jersey. But for those who are able, there may be another way to get needs met such as transportation, social events, classes, home repairs and medical without having to move out of your home.
According to a recent survey by AARP, 89% of older adults want to age in their own homes and neighborhoods.
Enter “The Villages,” a grass roots movement that started in Boston 17 years ago. The construct serves to simulate an old-fashioned village where neighbors took care of neighbors. Where the elderly were revered for their wisdom. Home repairs, socializing and medical needs weren’t an issue. People just helped each other because it was the thing to do. Except, this time, the Villages are virtual and with the “villagers” helping out on an as-needed basis.
There are several “villages” that have already formed in New Jersey, including the Southern Jersey towns of Margate and Moorestown. There are also successful and active Villages in California, Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, among other places. Now, Kathy Kuzma, one of the founding members of this movement in Northern NJ is seeking to get the word out and create these virtual villages in Bergen County.
“We don’t interfere with the free services for seniors that are already provided for lower income families. On the contrary, we focus on the middle-income families who may not be eligible for services from other organizations,” says Kuzma. “There are some wonderful initiatives already in motion here in Bergen County that are for the purpose of improving quality of life for all senior citizens. One of these initiatives is in the “5 towns” consisting of Englewood, Ridgewood, Westwood, Garfield, and Teaneck. These towns are building and re-vamping infrastructure to make senior living more age friendly. So, we are hoping that the Villages will fit right in with what they are already putting in place.”
Villages are an effort to improve quality of life not only for the senior citizens they serve, but also for the people who provide the services. Many of the providers are retirees themselves, seeking to live the best quality of life in their own golden years. Those who are able contribute services like home repairs for an hourly wage such as $16/hour. Others volunteer their time. Villages have a number of different funding sources including grants and support from organizations like the Jewish Federation, creative fundraising initiatives and annual membership fees. Among other fundraising efforts, Ms. Kuzma has been going around to Rotary groups to try to get a scholarship to offer prescription drug discounts.
“The biggest challenge we have in getting these villages going is in finding talented people to lead and support the organization and efforts,” Kuzma adds. Ms. Kuzma has been helping to spread the word to local government officials and to those who are leaders in their communities, like those who attend local government meetings.
A big initiative of the Villages organization is making sure seniors will be completing the 2020 census. Ms. Kuzma says that all too often, seniors are under-counted and under-represented because they didn’t fill out the census. Therefore, many sources of funding come in too low for seniors just because the census shows lower numbers of older adults than there actually are. Ms. Kuzma and her team seek to work with local High Schools and student volunteers to help seniors fill out the computer and internet-based 2020 census.
Villages are generally member-driven, non-profit, community-based networks that help provide independent living resources and referrals so older adults who choose to age in place can continue living vibrant and healthy lives in their homes and communities, even as they age and need more support services. Most villages nationwide are self-governing 501c3 nonprofit membership organizations run by a Board of Directors elected by the village members. They are supported by a combination of fees, grants, and fundraising.
For more information, check out www.northjerseyvillages.org.