January 9, 2015

Virtual Villages: What a Fabulous idea

While reading Tom Sightings' excellent blog, Sightings at 60, I came across a concept I was unfamiliar with: virtual villages. His post referred to an article in the New York Times that provided a thorough and intriguing explanation of this idea for shared communal living - but without living together.

For many retirees, a goal is to remain in one's home and in one's neighborhood for as long as possible until health issues force a move. One of the problems that choice can trigger is loneliness. Unless one's neighborhood has a number of folks of similar age and mobility, it is easy to become isolated. Friendships are difficult to maintain or start anew. Also, finding workmen who can be trusted to perform home repairs or modifications becomes a crap shoot. We are aware of companies that take advantage of seniors, turning simple repairs into costly replacement projects.

Welcome a new approach to aging in place: a group of people who form social connections and share information on service companies that have by verified by members. There can be a cadre of volunteers who help in dog walking, grocery shopping, or yard work.

Virtual Village members may meet in someone's home for a meal, discuss a book or current events. Meeting at a restaurant for happy hour or a movie theater to see a feature film together are common occurrences. Importantly, these are true communities where new friendships are formed and nurtured. Members watch out for each other and offer the caring support of an extended family.

Virtual village members can stay in touch through special village websites and email. Many also use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to stay in touch and foster friendships.

A company has been formed to help manage, promote, and coordinate these villages. According to the Village to Village Network there are 140 virtual villages established in 40 states with another 125 or so on the drawing board. For a monthly fee of about $30-$40 a month members get access to various resources and support for the group as well as forums and idea exchanges.


It would be possible for a group of people to organize a virtual village on their own and skip the cost. With today's social media environment finding people who would like to band together for social support would not be difficult. There is a web site in Phoenix, for example, that allows like-minded people to form social organizations that cover virtually every interest and mindset.

But, the network does offer a healthy dose of organizational input and the ability to tap into ideas from other villages around the country. Many of these villages are providing tremendously valuable services to their members. With a majority of seniors desiring to remain in their homes, these virtual communities seem to be one viable option. There is a risk that a virtual village begins to promise too much and become too expensive for the members to support. Of course, then the folks who know each other can simply continue the relationships without the fancy extras.


Frankly, I found the idea very appealing. Betty and I are determined to not burden our children with our end-of-life issues, so moving into a retirement facility with assisted living and nursing care options will happen. But, that step is at least 15-20 years in the future.

In the meantime we want to remain independent, vital, and engaged with others for shared experiences and help as needed, A virtual village seem like an opportunity to do just that. I encourage you to click on the link above read the full New York Times article and then let me know what you think.


Note: I am in Palm Springs for the International Film Festival. It will take longer than normal to respond to comments.

13 comments:

  1. Bob, some aspects of retirement are tough to consider. Many of us share life with loved ones, and the very thought of being the one left behind is sobering. Reading your post and the Times article reminded me of my father's last years. We talked, often, and he told me that sometimes he was afraid. His admission surprised me because my father had been a man of faith and always seemed so strong and sure. He went on to admit that he wasn't worried about the past, and he knew that heaven was in his future, but it was "the trip from here to there" that concerned him. Now that I'm older, I understand what he meant. Most of us work hard to have adequate funds for the future, try to eat well and exercise to stay physically fit, and stay informed about the world around us. Once in awhile we face the harsh reality that we will either face the end of life alone, or our mate will. Worse, is the thought of being unable to care for ourselves due to illness. It's hard to think about this, even momentarily, but there's much that we can do to prepare for the future. I think the virtual village is here to stay and will meet the needs of many of us. The potential benefits seem to far outweigh the cost. I'm going to check is out! As many of us are facing this uncertain stage of life, I applaud all who face these uncertain issues and offer viable solutions. Thanks for this post, Bob.

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    1. Like you and your dad, the fear of my final years spent without my lifelong companion is quite unsettling, My faith assures me of my ultimate destination, but the end of the road on this earth is often rough for many.

      I find the idea of virtual villages quite comforting. While it doesn't replace the multi-generational family support of generations past, it is a needed part of how most of us live today.

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  2. I'm reminded of the small town that I call my home town with a population of ~1500 and a large surrounding rural community. It can be a blessing and a curse. A curse when everyone knows your business (and what they don't know, they make up!) but a blessing when those same people rally around when the chips are down. Word gets around quickly about good and bad service people. There's a mayor who encouraged the population to "adopt" a senior or someone who needed help whether it be snow removal or a ride to an appointment or to pick something up at the store. I think of my 81 yr old mother who has a circle of people who check on her morning and night by phone to ensure that she's ok. This small rural community is like a virtual village.

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    1. The "virtual village" used to be part of many peoples' lives, but we have gotten more isolated and disconnected from a real community. This is the modern day attempt at a replacement. I think it shows the deep, human need to connect and be cared for cannot be ignored.

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  3. As a childless couple, my husband and I are especially intrigued with this concept. I'm sure like many seniors, we will want to remain in our home for as long as possible. Creating a virtual village in our neighborhood could be at least a partial answer to "who will watch out for us"? I'm pretty sure as more and more of the huge baby boomer generation becomes elderly, more of these creative solutions will be put forward.

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    1. It is simply a fact of life that as we age our circle of friends changes and often shrinks due to moves, death, and the natural course of life. An approach like the virtual village seems to be one viable solution.

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  4. Glad you picked up on the virtual villages idea -- and obviously I agree, it's a great use of the internet and a great new option for many people -- not just to answer the question about who will watch out for us, but also who we will share our lives with and who we will commit to help out in their need. And btw, thanks for the compliment!

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    1. You are welcome, Tom, and thanks for finding the NYT article. Sharing our time and energies with others is so important to keeping our lives vital and fun.

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  5. Virtual village sounds like an awesome idea! As you know (& some readers may remember) I live in a cohousing community in California, which is a structured way to create an old fashioned neighborhood. I love it and am so glad my partner & I moved here, but it does involve a lot of work at times. A couple of our neighbors who enjoyed maintaining our facility moved to be closer to grandchildren and may I just mention that caring for a 31 unit condo complex with a club house, a pool, a spa & 10 acres of open woodlands is a good sized job? I know this because I was one of the folks who stepped up to help. We have been dealing with a backlog of issues; hopefully that era will be over soon and we can get it onto a routine, but I have felt like "the other Pam" on your blog because although I've taken the time to read it, I haven't stopped to comment.

    One other issue with cohousing is that a few (actually very few) of our neighbors moved here (some from other areas of California) bought here and then found, for various reasons, that they didn't enjoy it. Unfortunately because they owned a home, and because of the recession, they were stuck here for awhile. We are a multi-generational community, with quite a few young children running around; it's awesome to watch them & to enjoy our meals two or three times a week together, our yoga & book groups. There are definitely many options for connecting to the world out there; exploring many of them is a great idea.

    A virtual village would have some of the advantages of a community without some of the drawbacks. Using technology to benefit us is a smart idea.

    Great post!

    pam

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    1. I thought of your situation when I wrote this post. Cohousing has many advantages, but a virtual village is good for folks who like where they live now and want to establish a virtual community without moving.

      I didn't realize some of the residents at your place had to do the work to maintain the grounds. That is something I have done enough of over the years and am looking for an alternative!

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    2. There are actually choices. Some folks enjoy doing tasks around here, some tasks we hire out. I don't like landscaping either so I don't do it. I don't mind doing the organizational work for Facilities; I'm learning new skills & am enjoying the experience (I'm not pounding nails, but Karl, my partner, likes to do that, so that's his thing.) What we did find out is that as a self-managed community we do have some upkeep, which on one hand takes more time, but interestingly enough also seems to build deeper connections/friendships than just talking to someone. There's something about working together that changes a relationship differently for me, even with my experience in PTA & other volunteer opportunities. That said, it is not for everyone & the virtual village would also be a great option for many folks; it would definitely be less expensive unless someone was already planning on moving!

      Hope you are enjoying your film festival!

      pam.

      pam

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  6. These virtual villages are very promising and attractive to people who want to age in place but without isolating themselves. But this is not an alternative to long term care facilities like home care, adult day care, nursing home, assisted living facilities and CCRC. A lot of people are living much longer and most of them will most likely require long term care and to move to a community that provides high quality care. According to www.longtermcare.gov and www.ltcoptions.com, 7 out of 10 of Americans 65 and above will require long term care.

    If you don't have health issues and not impressed with the different types of communities right now, virtual villages are something to watch out for. It's really awesome because it heightens the social skills of members. Aside from that, virtual members watch out for each other and give care like they are family.

    Thanks for sharing and I'm pretty sure that this will become popular among retirees who don't want to spend much, enjoys the company of other people and want to have a relaxing life after retirement.

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    1. I see a virtual village as something that can occur before moving into a full service community. But, there is really no reason one couldn't exist inside a "formal" health care or three level retirement situation. After all, friendships and staying active are goals regardless of where we live.

      I don't see them as an economical choice as much as a lifestyle choice.

      Thanks for stopping by, Brenda.

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