In a community-minded project intended to forestall the isolation, helplessness, expense and depression of old age, a group of Ashlanders has created "Ashland at Home," a volunteer corps with members on call to help elders do everything from getting groceries and going to the doctor to changing a smoke alarm battery and feeding the cat while they're gone.
A nonprofit called "The Village," the founding members go online at the start of next year, seeking to grow to a maximum of 150 people, paying $500 a year and being served by 300 volunteers of all ages. It's $600 for a couple.
Taken from a national model that started in Boston and now has 80 communities nationwide, Ashland At Home, seeks to enable elders to stay in their homes and communities, delaying or preventing them from going in retirement communities, according to a fact sheet handed out by Ashlanders and written by the AARP.
In addition, The Village reduces isolation, creates an opportunity for useful volunteerism, creates community and lets members choose the types of services they want and when, AARP notes.
Tasks can include cleaning gutters, mowing lawns, walking pets, calling to check on members, watering plants, teaching computer software, installing a new shower head, playing Scrabble and helping a new widow deal with tasks that the late spouse handled, say members.
It's not intended to replace professional services or provide in-home care for those in need of assisted living.
The Villages are a response to the 78 million baby boomers who are about to retire, and, say members, a recognition of the fact that people older than 85 are the fastest-growing age segment in the population.
"It takes a lot of work to create a village," says vice president Herb Long, 83. "It takes a multigenerational effort to pull it off. A community is arising and that's a big drawing card for me. It means you're not alone in the aging process, especially when you get surprised by the events of aging, like when you're on the floor and can't get up. So, you have to learn aging as an art form, really."
In Ashland at Home, says president Barbara Jarvis, 78, "you get that sense of comfort that someone is there for you. You can call and get to the store ... It's a one-stop shop for those of us who want to live independently as we age."
Leaders of the Village run background checks and do trainings of volunteers — and when they get a call from a member, will assign the volunteer. They can also recommend the best-rated plumbers, electricians and other such workers for hire.
Volunteers may attend seminars and hear speakers brought in by The Village. Ashland Community Hospital is partnering in training and seminar room space.
Ashland's Village is the first one in Southern Oregon; there are two others upstate, says associate member Steve Neuberger.
Ironically, says founding member Marcia Rodine, 72, two groups in Ashland were organizing such efforts and, when they learned of each other, they merged. If demand requires, the group may create satellite Villages in nearby towns, which could take on its nonprofit status.
Although The Village is designed to help seniors, the founding members decided not to require any minimum age, says Jarvis, so, conceivably, it could be used by younger people in need.
The aging-in-place model with a support community is vital for successful aging, says Long, because aging has a way of sneaking up on you in tiny steps, slowly "hypnotizing" you.
"I get hypnotized by the fact that I'm an old man now and walk like an old man and yet there's the dance between that and denial, saying you can do what you did as a teen," he says, "but you can't ... Many of us want to be able to stay in our own homes but we don't want to call exclusively on our friends, neighbors or our families for help. This lets me be private when I need to and still be independent."
Ashland At Home was welcomed by Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland, who says: "I see this as prevention. So many seniors don't get services until they reach a crisis point. This is seniors and the rest of our community coming together to help seniors. It will save Oregonians money."