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October 01, 2013

The Village Movement

Candace Baldwin

(Note: The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: BIFOCAL Vol. 35, Issue 1.)

All across the country, older adults are seeking options that will allow them to remain in their own homes as they age. This desire is especially prevalent in the baby boomer generation, whose observation of its own parents’ aging has led them to find meaning and balance in their own lives through activity, engagement, and social networks. Aging in the community is a proven way to improve one’s quality of life and health and is seen as a viable alternative to nursing homes, assisted living, or continuing care retirement communities.

Over the past 10 years, one innovative aging-in-the-community model to emerge is the Village model, which creates a wide array of supports and facilitates the creation of social networks of older adults in service to each other. Villages are organized as 501(c)3, nonprofit organizations and, while the business model for the implementation of the Village model varies, most, if not all, rely on small paid staffs, a volunteer board of directors, and an army of volunteers.

At the heart of the Village model is the focus on the individual as the core of the community. In this model, older adults are active members in the service delivery process and provide essential assistance in the planning and implementation of a wide range of programming offered through the Village. Villages’ emphasis on volunteering not only provides manpower for Village programs, but, more importantly, provides an organized way to keep members engaged in their community and help them to make a difference. Fifty-one percent of the members volunteer back to their Village—making the “neighbor helping neighbor” concept the foundation of the model.

Built on cooperative principles, Villages facilitate access to community support services and connection to on-going civic engagement. According to the Village to Village Network, 115 Villages have opened across the country, providing full-service programs to nearly 22,000 older adults. Individual Village membership levels range from 100-400 people, with an average membership of 150.

Villages share the following hallmark characteristics:

  • They are self-governing, self-supporting, grassroots membership-based organizations.
  • They consolidate and coordinate services to members.
  • They create innovative strategic partnerships that leverage existing community resources and do not duplicate existing services.
  • They are holistic, person-centered, and consumer-driven.
  • They promote volunteerism, civic engagement, and intergenerational connections.

Villages focus on expanding choice and access to their members, strengthening the social capital in the community. Villages offer members a network of resources, services, programs, and activities that revolve around daily living needs; social, cultural, and educational programs; ongoing health and wellness activities; and member-to-member volunteer support.

Expanding Local Capacity for Sustainable Replication

Village to Village (VtV) Network, LLC, was launched in 2010 as the movement’s national hub. Established as a non-profit, peer-to-peer network of Villages, the VtV Network brings Villages and like-minded organizations together to create a national learning community to support replication in communities across the country. Since its launch in 2010, the VtV Network has amassed 230 member organizations located in 38 U.S. states and three other countries (Canada, Australia, and Netherlands). The VtV Network is the go-to hub for the Village movement; its mission is to enable communities to establish and effectively manage aging-in-community organizations initiated and inspired by their members. The goals of the VtV Network are to:

  • Promote the Village model as a community approach to aging for replication;
  • Assist new, emerging, and established membership-driven Villages to create sustainable organizations;
  • Gather feedback on how the benefits and programs can be revised to meet the needs of individual Villages; and
  • Research and evaluate the impact of Villages on a number of social and health factors.

Common Village Legal Concerns

The Village to Village Network provides resources and tools for the start up and operations of the Village organizations locally. Through a focus on local leadership development, the VtV Network draws upon expertise from local Village leaders and industry experts to provide start-up support to community leaders nationwide. However, there are a number of inquiries where a licensed professional can provide support in responding to the member. Generally, legal questions focus on how to incorporate and file as a non-profit and how to mitigate liability.

Villages can benefit from pro bono or discounted legal services especially in the early stages of incorporation. VtV Network members have access to a collection of Village peer-developed documents through an online document library, providing good examples and promising practices for emerging organizations. However, these do not replace the need for professional, skilled legal advice to ensure the organization is set on a firm legal foundation from the beginning. Alternatively, many Villages have been utilizing fiscal agents to ease the level of the start up “legal lift.” Setting up a good partnership with clear roles and responsibilities with the fiscal agent requires a bit of negotiation to ensure the relationship will support both entities.

The reliance on volunteers to support the coordination of member benefits also opens the organization up for liability concerns. According to a report issued by the American Bar Association in 2012, Villages can best mitigate their risk for liability by establishing and maintaining the integrity of their internal processes. This requires an establishment of operating policies and procedures for volunteer recruitment, training and management, selection of preferred providers for information and referral and other “consistent risk management [activities] should be able to shield Village organizers, members and volunteers from fear of liability.” The Aging-in-Place Village Concept: Addressing Liability Concerns guide has been made widely available to VtV Network members and provides good guidance to local leaders.

The reality is that people need and want a variety of services and supports as they age. Choice, convenience, and customization increasingly characterize consumer expectations. Successful aging of older adults who wish to age in their homes and communities requires these “whole person” models that address essential needs related to: safe, affordable, and accessible housing; community engagement; health and well-being; independence; and autonomy. Quite simply, the Village movement represents an expanding collective voice among older adults who are seeking—and creating—alternatives to the antiquated aging service delivery system. For more information on how you can support the national Village movement, please contact the Village to Village Network at 617-299-9NET or visit the website at ■

Candace Baldwin

About the author: Candace Baldwin is the Director of Strategy, Aging in Community, at Village to Village Network, LLC, in Arlington, VA. More information about the VtV Network can be found on their website: