Aging gracefully: A baby boomer’s take on getting older in Charlottesville

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Former mayor Kay Slaughter and Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association President Bill Emory want to make aging a more positive experience for seniors. Photo: Elli Williams Former mayor Kay Slaughter and Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association President Bill Emory want to make aging a more positive experience for seniors. Photo: Elli Williams

Walking on the Downtown Mall, I glance at a storefront window reflection and ask, “Who’s that old lady?” In a flash of recognition I know: I am the old lady.

When did I get this old?

My friends are aging also. While I used to deplore any conversation that mentioned health for more than 30 seconds, now I relish every detail of surgery for a torn meniscus or a knee or hip replacement. Life has changed.

My friends and I aren’t like our parents were in their prime. We’ve traveled more, and we regularly go to the gym, walk the urban trails, and hike in the Blue Ridge.

On the other hand, there’s no shortage of stories about old people left to die in nursing homes or even in their own homes. Recently I read about a dignified man who —despite the presence of family—died at home covered in bedsores, living in squalor. His daughter received a jail sentence for neglect.

This story and others like it motivate me to look for alternatives to aging. While I am in good health now, I realize I’m an accident or illness away from needing help. I have wonderfully supportive adult children and grandchildren—they wouldn’t leave me to rot, would they?—and friends always willing to assist (except when they have their own mishaps). But I’m searching for other pathways for this stage of life, and I am not alone.

As baby boomers age, a tsunami of seniors and their adult children will need to figure out how to acclimate to the later stages of life, as evidenced by the fact that Charlottesville has already seen an influx of newcomers seeking out the area for retirement.

With only modest financial resources, a large number of us cannot afford lifelong retirement communities. Besides, some—like me—prefer living close to town for the libraries, farmers’ markets, movies, live music, theaters, and art galleries. We also enjoy our intergenerational neighborhoods where we see children playing near their homes and on the playgrounds, and young couples doing yard work. I also like walking around my garden and sitting in the woods behind my house.

Ten years ago, I read about communities setting up systems for seniors called villages, where people remain in their homes and receive assistance from neighborhood volunteers, existing social services, and discounted home maintenance services. Boston’s Beacon Hill and Washington’s Capitol Hill Villages were two early examples, but there are now more than 100 nonprofits in the U.S. either coordinating a village or developing one.

Last year, CvilleVillage got started here in town, and I have become one of the worker bees to make it a reality. Our area has lots of services, each in a different location with different qualifications and protocols. A village can simplify the process of finding these services, making everything accessible through one easy phone call.

CvilleVillage’s tagline is “neighbors helping neighbors age safely and happily in their homes and communities.” It’s currently in a planning phase as we identify the needs of the area’s seniors, as well as the people and monetary resources needed to meet these needs. Neighborhoods would supply some volunteers with the larger organization providing additional resources. Until it receives its IRS nonprofit status, CvilleVillage operates under the fiscal sponsorship of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

Most villages in the U.S. operate on a budget from affordable membership fees, foundation grants, and individual contributions. Hired staff connect members with the services they need for small household tasks like changing ceiling light bulbs, climbing ladders, and moving large belongings. Transportation and socializing are also important functions in a village.

Over time, CvilleVillage hopes to identify tradespeople at a discount rate who have been vetted for safety and honesty and who can help with larger tasks such as yard work and household maintenance. Volunteers and others would also be recruited to help with technology (computers, smart phones, DVDs) or paperwork (insurance, taxes, bookkeeping).

Recently, CvilleVillage—in collaboration with the Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association—developed a pilot project to try out the concept. With a small grant, CvilleVillage will recruit and train volunteers to conduct a needs interview with Woolen Mills residents. After compiling the results, the group will begin coordinating some services from volunteers and area agencies. A neighborhood coordinating committee is being assembled, and the project should begin in 2014.

Aging—at least in Charlottesville—now offers an alternative pathway. Fortunately, I’m still chipper enough to volunteer to help my neighbors so I expect to be part of the pilot project. And I’m hoping that when the time is right, CvilleVillage will be here to assist me.

Until then, carpe diem, baby boomers!—Kay Slaughter 

It takes a village

For more information or to get
the CvilleVillage newsletter and schedule of events, contact
Carolyn Benjamin (carbenjam@embarqmail.com) or Judy Zeitler (pejz3@aol.com).

CvilleVillage holds a general meeting Friday, December 13, 4pm at Mary Williams Community Center at the Jefferson School City Center, 233 4th St., NW, Suite J. All are welcome.

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