In recent decades a cultural shift has been building in response to the ever-burgeoning population of older adults. The work of thought leaders in aging organizations like Leading Age, AARP, and The American Society on Aging, along with the voices of writers like BiIl Thomas, and the efforts of the World Health Organizations on Elder Friendly Communities/ Age-Friendly Communities and of Met Life and Generations United on Livable Communities has supported the development of truly intergenerational communities of residents that have ample opportunity to share their expertise and support each other and their community. All this fine work is moving to build a world where individuals can survive and thrive with adequate resources for housing, transportation, health care and other supportive services and social connectedness. Some of the shift is an outgrowth of decades of work on home and community based services movement. Other perspectives that have helped to light the path have emerged from creative innovations of thought leaders like Bolton Anthony of Second Journey, Zalman Schacter Shalomi, and other efforts like the Center for Conscious Eldering, or Fierce with Age an Online Digest for Boomers.
We are fortunate in Maryland to have had a long history of programs that support Aging in Place. The first effort grew out of a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community Model, (a NORC), and was developed in the City of Greenbelt. The program, Greenbelt Assistance in Independent Living (GAIL) was established in 2001 the same year as the initial “Senior Village” Beacon Hill was set up in Boston.
One of the reasons the Community of Practice talks about “Aging in Community” is because using that language allows us to embrace those programs that are a ViIlage-style program but not considered a Village, and larger models like “Livable Communities” and “ Elder Friendly Communities”. In addition there are other models for Aging in Place that support affordable housing communities and are not part of the Village movement, but we can all learn from each other about how to foster leadership and empowerment for Aging in Community. The common thread of the models that helped our Maryland Village programs to emerge is the theme of consumer empowerment, or participant-directed programming. The work of each of the programs in Maryland has helped older adults join together to expand the options for aging in place so that individuals can live and thrive in local communities throughout their lifespan.
In terms of the history of these types of programs in Maryland, soon after the GAIL program developed in Greenbelt, news about the Beacon Hill effort was picked up by AARP and the popular media. The first early forming VIllages emerged in Maryland. They were Burning Tree Village and Bannockburn’s Neighbors Assisting Neighbors, both in Montgomery County and Home Ports in Chestertown, in Kent County. Even these initial programs reveal the critical importance of how Village style programs are tailored to the needs of the local community and are developed in part, by the creativity, wisdom and backgrounds of those who are the founders. The decisions made about the program operations are guided by those who step forward into leadership roles as founders and early Board members. Although they may be strongly influenced by reviewing other resources about other VIllages we found from listening to Village leaders in Maryland that the heart of the development process for an individual Village group is relational. Which implies that the personalities, backgrounds and vision of the early formers plays a strong role in determining how the program is instituted.
The current Villages already operating or those under development in Maryland, represent a very wide array of models. Some are covering entire counties, some are representing small neighborhoods of 400-500 individuals others cover towns or townships. The models include those that have developed with close support from county agencies or non-profit organizations and others that have been created around a kitchen table among friends. There is no single or “right” or “wrong”way. Some of the programs look like expansion of a social service model, while others are innovations that look more like a neighborhood or community change models.
As Villages continued to develop in Maryland we found that the backgrounds of the leaders was very diverse. Some founders included Board members who had extensive professional backgrounds working with vulnerable seniors and other individuals who had a deep personal understanding of serving as a caregiver to a spouse or parent with a disabling condition associated with aging. Other founders had less experience in the aging services field but a fierce sense of the need for personal independence and a profound desire to remain at home. More recently a handful of leaders in Maryland are also looking at ways to explore the accessibility that can be obtained living in a CCRC environment with additional VIllage-style resources provided to maximize freedom and independence. Sometimes this sort of creative adaptation can provide maximum lifelong independence to someone with a mobility impairment. It is so important to think creatively. Each Village leader we meet has revealed a passion for thriving in the community, boldly asks questions of the status quo, has a desire to share wisdom earned over decades, and voices a commitment to living among all generations. We think this is a dynamic and creative approach and wish to support all leaders who are promoting these innovations!