We’re getting older. We’re living longer. We’re still working. We’re living alone. We’re living independently. Our health is good, though some of us have chronic health challenges.
According to the Administration for Community Living, roughly 28 percent of noninstitutionalized older adults in the United States live alone. The proportion living alone increases with advanced age. Among women age 75 and over, for example, almost half (45 percent) live by themselves.
Most of us have a strong preference for growing older in our own homes and communities, as opposed to in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. Ensuring that older adults, especially those living alone, are supported and cared for allows us to more successfully age in place in the neighborhoods we love.
The Village concept is an important support system as we age in our familiar communities. It was created 15 years ago in Boston to offer programs and services that build a sense of community and empower older adults to better control their own destinies as they choose to remain in their own homes.
Penn’s Village, a non-profit organization, was established in central Philadelphia more than 10 years go with the motto, Neighbors Helping Neighbors Thrive, Connect and Engage. It is built on the support system provided by neighbor volunteers and the mutual respect and friendship that often develop between them and the members.
John Erickson, a volunteer, describes the experience this way: “As a member and volunteer, I have experienced Penn’s Village as an always-welcoming community. Volunteering as a weekly visitor to homebound individuals continues to be an enriching experience, one that allows me to connect with and give back to my community. The varied Penn’s Village programs are both educational and an excellent opportunity to socialize and meet new friends.”
There are two other Villages serving neighborhoods in Philadelphia — East Falls Village, and the Northwest Village Network — with similar missions.
Villages offer programming with the goal of removing loneliness, isolation, and the high cost of socializing. Some recent Penn’s Village programs have included mobility, movement and wellness (exercise, dance, yoga, pain management, deciding on drug plans or Medicare supplements, flu shots), local history (Boathouse Row, Philadelphia mansions), help getting the most out of smart phones, a presentation on The Titanic, author discussions, and the newly formed Men’s Group and their discussions on current events, to name a few.
Our newest program offers an organizing model developed by one of our volunteers – the Silver Binder - for keeping written track of important papers and personal information in case of planned or medical emergencies. The Silver Binder is a three-ring binder that contains guidance and blank forms for organizing the owner’s personal, financial, medical and end-of-life information in one location. It is intended to be used by the owner as a reference guide and for use by others acting on behalf of the owner. It is also intended to be used after the passing of the owner to settle his/her estate and last wishes.
Because the healthcare journey can be complex and fragmented, Penn’s Village created a unique program called Health Pals, a program of trained volunteers who help Villagers navigate the healthcare system. Health Pals volunteers transport members to doctor’s appointments, attend appointments with members, take notes and assist them in asking relevant healthcare questions.
The financial impact of the Penn’s Village volunteers who provide a variety of one-on-one services to Villagers can be valued at $24.69 per hour. The social and emotional value are priceless.
Harriette Mishkin is co-chair of the Communications Committee and a member of Penn’s Village. She is founder and principal of Performance Concepts, a management-consulting firm.