Just as they fought for Civil Rights and an end to the Vietnam War during the ‘60s, now baby boomers are redefining the aging process. As the largest segment of the American population, baby boomers (those born in the decade following World War II), have a loud and insistent voice—a voice to be reckoned with.
As they now climb into their 60s and 70s, that collective voice insists on growing, learning, and living life to the fullest. No longer content to live passively in their children’s back bedrooms, or be coaxed into a senior community they are not ready for, older Americans are finding creative ways to remain in the homes they worked so hard to pay off.
Enter the Village to Village Movement, a national grassroots phenomenon formed to provide the services seniors need to stay at home for as long as possible. This new retirement model represents 350 Villages nationwide and is designed to encourage, protect and enable at-home independence for seniors. SLO Village, developed in 2015 and launched for action in 2017, is part of that network.
Not to be confused with a physical place, SLO Village is a cadre of some 40 volunteers offering transportation, home repairs, technology help, even walking or reading companions, to name just a few of the services. Currently serving members in Arroyo Grande, Avila Beach, Grover Beach, Los Osos, Morro Bay, Nipomo, Oceano, Pismo Beach, Shell Beach and San Luis Obispo, SLO Village is a godsend for many. Membership fees are $500 a year for a single person; $750 for a couple. There is no additional cost for volunteer services.
“More than 90% of seniors in our community want to continue living at home,” said SLO Village Board President Dave Kuykendall. “More importantly, they also want to stay connected to their communities and to do the things that are important to them. Many cannot do this without some sort of support system.”
Discovered by local GALA members, John Alongi and Tauria Linala, SLO Village held its first public planning meeting in San Luis Obispo three years ago. A board of directors was then formed, officers were elected, and the development process began. Membership and services were first offered in February of 2017; Alongi and Linala are now Village Board members. To date, there are 48 members of SLO Village. Service providers come to SLO Village by way of personal recommendations. They are background checked to be sure they are licensed, bonded, and insured. Personal references are requested and checked. And followup with members who use them is also done for further vetting.
So far, drivers for errands are the most popular service requested at 44%. This is closely followed by in-home help (15%) and walking companion (13%). Home repair and technology help are also very popular. My friends, Joe and Elisabeth, are smart, energetic, and actively engaged with their community, maintaining memberships in local political groups and artistic social circles. They are also 102 and 86 years old respectively, and have become the poster couple—superstars—of the great SLO Village experiment. Joe’s macular degeneration has left him frustratingly unable to read, a lifetime daily activity without which he feels less informed than he wants to be.
Elisabeth’s recent successful heart surgery left her with strict orders from her physicians to walk as much as possible. They use SLO Village volunteers to read to Joe and walk with Elisabeth, among many other things, including rides to places as far away as Stanford (for Elisabeth’s checkups) or as close as the nearest public swimming pool (Joe still swims on a regular basis). Joe and Elisabeth have appeared on video, in the papers, and on the radio often, touting the benefits and singing the praises of SLO Village. But the benefits run both ways. Volunteers and staff members alike have also reaped the rewards of meeting local seniors, forming friendships, and learning fun facts they might never have known otherwise.
Here’s Kuykendall again: “Mel Warner, one of our members, recently needed some help getting photos off the internet for a memoir he was working on. … His request was for photos of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba shortly after World War II. Turns out Mel was a member of the Office of Strategic Services—the foundation of our present-day CIA. Their missions resulted in some of the bravest acts of the war and forever changed the course of history.
In 2018, Mel and fellow OSS veterans were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor the United States can bestow.” Wow, who knew? The future of SLO Village and the Village movement in general is bright. Kuykendall hopes to expand its services to include seniors who live in the North County and on the North Coast. He also hopes to increase the number of seniors it serves for whom the annual fee is not affordable. Grants, donations, and other resources help subsidize people who cannot afford the fee, and it is hoped SLO Village will soon be able to serve more of them.
“But we have to grow carefully,” Kuykendall warns, citing the need to expand the volunteer base without compromising the vetting process. “This is a new movement, a different way of doing things, so we’ll need to take a step back and evaluate what we are doing. … It’s very much a give and get situation with reciprocity between volunteers and members. That’s what really makes this work.”
In addition, Kuykendall says that he does not foresee SLO Village replacing the many good senior communities out there. In fact, for some seniors, the help they need is greater than his volunteers can provide, which is when Assisted Living, Memory Care, and other retirement communities offer good choices. Which brings us to the local confusion about all the “villages” names out there. The Villages of San Luis Obispo is a long-standing, locally owned continuing care retirement community offering luxury independent, assisted living, and memory care. Villaggio is a yet-to-be-built full-service retirement community offering the full range of settings from independent through skilled nursing care. And then there is the mobile home park called The Village. Kuykendall sees that as a plus as it gives him the chance to explain what SLO Village is—and is not.
This month, on October 3rd from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., Charlotte Dickson, Executive Director of Village Movement California, will offer a talk called “Revolutionize Aging” at Dignity Health’s Copeland Health Education Pavilion, 1911 Johnson Ave., in SLO. To attend, please RSVP at SLOVillage.org or call 805-242-6440.
In her talk, Dickson invites us all, baby boomers and other generations alike, to “Join the revolution. To grow older and bolder.” Day by day, volunteer by volunteer, member by member, SLO Village creates a positive change in the way we age.