What does it look like to reach one’s twilight years?
Spouses and friends pass away, children move out of town, neighbors move into assisted living. Who should seniors turn to for a ride to the grocery store? Who will be around when they want to grab coffee with a friend?
Nursing homes are expensive and 24-hour care is unnecessary for many seniors. In addition, moving away can exacerbate seniors’ feelings of loneliness, especially when facilities are farther from friends, churches and activities.
Villages Clark County is a nonprofit membership organization that creates a network of background-checked volunteers who provide seniors and disabled adults with the resources and services they need to maintain their independence at home.
Villages is not a place, but a plan. Members pay a monthly fee to join, and volunteers cover their needs, while the organization creates social events to create a community between members.
Villages volunteers are not medical providers, but helpers who aim to do the kinds of tasks seniors would ask a neighbor or family member to help with.
As member of the Villages Clark County governing council John Chapman puts it, “We do chores, but not jobs. We can help with a project in the yard, but we don’t do weekly landscaping.”
The organization is based in Vancouver, but their coverage of North Clark County is increasing.
The challenge of getting established in North Clark County, which has more people living in remote areas than the Vancouver area, is making sure Villages can get volunteers out to members who need help.
Though, as Chapman says, “volunteers really want to help out, and often don’t mind driving a long way. We have one who is a nurse who already drives a long way every day, who doesn’t mind driving out to Battle Ground when someone needs help. Volunteers are dedicated. We love the people who work for us.”
When a volunteer isn’t qualified for a task, Villages is able to refer members to someone who is, like the Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington or similar organizations who can provide more help.
Ramona Perkins, volunteer coordinator, said the training and task assignment is always meant to play to the volunteers’ strengths.
“The training is very important.” said Perkins. “We do training monthly on different scenarios and to prepare volunteers for the tasks.”
Chapman added, “We want Villages to fulfill them (the volunteers) as well as the members. … We are getting more younger people involved as volunteers and those intergenerational connections are important.”
Villages hosts events such as coffee and social hours in person or online, visiting the lilac gardens in Woodland, walking the Chelatchie Trail, book clubs and more.
Janet Anderson is an associate member and volunteer in the Ridgefield area, who helps out across the county. One of her recent experiences as a volunteer was with a woman who lives in a senior living community, but in her own independent unit. The woman has a helper who comes once a week to do laundry, but one week, the helper wasn’t able to come. So, she called Villages, who connected her to Anderson. Moving her wet clothes into the dryer, vacuuming the carpet, petting her cats and sticking around for lunch: tasks that weren’t challenging for Anderson, were great acts of charity in the woman’s eyes.
“Simple things like that, she was so appreciative that I was able to step in to help. That’s the kind of thing Villages does. And now, we have a relationship and I’m getting to know her,” Anderson said. “Something as simple as that is what helps her stay in her home, and that’s what we’re all about. It’s very affordable, and for the members, it’s quite a lot of help.”
A chapter of the Village to Village network, a nationwide organization, their slogan and mission is “Neighbors Helping Neighbors Stay Neighbors.”
The organization started in 2019, as part of a movement to help seniors age in place when possible, which has gained traction since the start of the pandemic.
But the goal of aging in place, Chapman says, is to let seniors stay in their homes as long as they can lead healthy and engaging lives. To do that, they need friendship and community.
A full membership, which covers weekly help and free involvement in Villages social events, costs $50 per month or $540 if paid annually. An associate membership, which involves free participation in the Villages social community and just occasional help from volunteers when needed, is $30 per month or $360 per year if paid annually. Additional household members may be charged $20 a month if they require a separate set of services.
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