Grassroots Senior Movement Creating Hundreds of Self-Help “Villages” Across Country Including New York

The grassroots “Village Movement” which began in 2001 with the creation of Beacon Hill Village in Boston has spread across the country and now totals 165 villages that are open and another 160 communities in the development phase.  There are fourteen villages in New York State and another twelve in development including Albany, Ancram, Bronxville, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Ithaca, Mamoroneck, Millerton, New York City, Pleasant Valley, Rhinebeck, Rye, Scarsdale, Sleepy Hollow, Somers, White Plains, and Yonkers. This overview was presented by Natalie Galucia, the Executive Director of the Village to Village Network, based in St. Louis, who came to Albany and spoke at a forum attended by nearly one hundred persons in the Albany area on Thursday sponsored by the Albany Guardian Society.

The villages are self help projects which have arisen from seniors’ desire to “age in the community” and to work together to provide services  such as transportation, social events, wellness classes, caregiver supports, respite and health and medical advocacy.  The villages are usually formed as nonprofits which have small paid staff and a large complement of volunteers.

NORCs, or naturally occurring retirement communities, which began in New York State, were a forerunner to the village concept.  NORCs are defined in state law and many receive funding from the New York State Office for the Aging.  They began in high rises in New York City where residents aged in place and then were expanded to included “neighborhood NORCs” for residents living in their own homes where large numbers of persons aged in place.

The Albany Guardian Society is continuing to facilitate a committee that will meet in the Albany area to further study and consider developing villages in the Albany area.  Senior Services of Albany Director Monica Boeckman reported at the meeting on Livingston Village which is being developed as a village in a senior apartment complex in an old public school.  Ed Neary described the efforts in the village of Colonie to promote independence and aging in the community.

I attended the forum yesterday and it was especially uplifting to hear of the progress of the village movement and the activity locally and across the state.   Promoting this concept and “livable communities” in New York State was a key initiative that  I and the staff at the State Office for the Aging promoted when I was Director of the agency and now I want to work to keep promoting here in the Capital District and beyond.  The State Office joined with the Albany Guardian Society, Leading Age and other organizations to sponsor the first Empowering Communities for Successful Aging conference in Saratoga Springs in 2009 that attracted over 500 persons.

It was inspiring to hear Nina Lynch, one of the leaders and now President of the Rhinebeck at Home village that has started and grown  in the last few years.  She said the Livable Communities concept is incorporated into the work and philosophy of Rhinebeck at Home.  She served for nineteen years as an Aging Information Services Specialist at the Dutchess County Office for the Aging.  She has retired and now gone on  to be active in the village effort and other communities activities.  People like Nina are leading this village movement at the grassroots level and she is great example of the voluntarism and “social capital” that is making a difference in helping herself and her peers to living independently and support each other.

Mike Burgess

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I have been a senior advocate for most of my career. I was Executive Director of the New York StateWide Senior Action Council and the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans. In 2007-2010 I was the Director of the New York State Office for the Aging

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