SC baby boomers form virtual villages as they age

By BRUCE SMITHAssociated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Aging baby boomers want to stay in their own homes as long as possible and a way to do that, the so-called village concept, is catching on in South Carolina.

Experts say it's less expensive for baby boomers as they age to live at home than in nursing homes, and people who remain in their homes are often happier and live longer. Some 8,000 baby boomers reach retirement age each day in the U.S.

"The baby boomers do not intend to go into nursing homes," said Janet Schumacher, the coordinator of the Office on Aging in Charleston. "They are looking to each other to provide support."

Virtual villages are associations set up to provide help to members with everything from transportation and home repairs to social and cultural connections. The first was started on Beacon Hill in Boston 13 years ago.

Now, according to the nonprofit Village to Village Network, there are 120 operating nationwide as well as in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. One is in South Carolina, on Hilton Head Island, while residents in Sun City, just off the island, and Charleston are considering starting two more.

There's a meeting Wednesday in Charleston sponsored by the South Carolina Aging in Place Coalition, a group that works with agencies to help people remain in their homes as they age, and the Charleston Office on Aging, to discuss the village concept.

Schumacher says baby boomers don't look at aging as did previous generations.

"Baby boomers don't want to be old. They want to be active and then die," she said. "They don't intend to go gently into the night. They just want to go on their motorcycles into the night."

There is no one-size-fits-all for villages. A group of six women living in a house might be considered a village as might an entire condominium building in New York, she said.

Generally villages have bylaws and some sort of dues or membership fees.

"The group of people who are getting together and forming a village decide what they need," said Barbara Franklin, owner of Franklin & Associates, a long-term care planning and financing firm and chairwoman of the South Carolina Aging in Place Coalition.

Generally, though, villages have three components. One is a volunteer aspect in which members agree to help each other doing such things as providing transportation, minor home maintenance and simply checking up on other members to make sure they are OK.

A second aspect is vetting companies that provide services for members such as home repairs.

"Unless you immerse yourself in the field of aging you have no way to know what services are out there. How do you know what questions to ask and then how do you access those services?" Franklin asked.

Villages also provide social aspect where members can get together and share fellowship.

The nonprofit Lourie Center, near the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia, offers exercise classes, language learning and computer lessons among other courses.

"But our most important programming is getting people into the center and getting them talking to each other and getting them remembering they are still a very important part of society," said Mary Kessler, the center's executive director. Many of the center's members live in nearby apartments.

"If somebody doesn't show up for class people will call them and ask where they are," she said.

Hilton Head Island Safe Harbour, the village on Hilton Head, has 44 members ranging in age from 44 to 99. Members help each other with transportation and household repairs and even provide a respite for those caring for family members with chronic diseases.

"Not only does it save everybody money but you have people who are staying in their homes. Studies have shown that people who live in their homes have longer and richer lives," said Beth Zimmerman, one of two paid staffers at the village. She regularly calls all village members to check them.

Kessler said the word about aging in place is getting out as baby boomers age.

"The whole village to village movement is designed to do that," she said. "It's like when neighbors at the turn of the last century would come over and know where you are and know when you are ill and bring you food. We have lost a lot of that."


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