Betty Smith, 83, became a member of Ashland At Home last fall and regularly calls on the nonprofit’s volunteers for transportation to and from appointments and, later this spring, hopes to get some help cleaning up her yard as well.

The organization, formed in July 2012, is one of about 160 “villages” nationwide and two statewide that provide older adult members with access to services and supports that will allow them to continue living independently. An additional 200 villages, including several in Portland, are at various stages of development.

“We do the kinds of things you would ask a good friend or a neighbor to do for you on an episodic basis,” said Executive Director Katharine Danner.

Ashland At Home was chosen to be part of a national study that will evaluate the impact of villages and the quality of life they provide for members. The Advanced Studies of Aging Services at the School of Social Welfare, University of California Berkeley, partnered with the Village to Village Network Research Committee to conduct the study, which is funded by the Retirement Research Foundation.

Over the next 18 months, Ashland At Home volunteers will survey the organization’s 60 members and any new members, enter the data into the system and submit it to the university for analysis.

Danner said the university developed the study to evaluate nine California-based, grant-funded villages and has since amended it to evaluate 25 villages across the country.

The research will help Ashland At Home and other villages evaluate their effectiveness and services, grow membership, encourage other communities to establish their own villages and ease the burden on long-term care and retirement facilities.

A recent AARP survey showed that nearly 90 percent of seniors would prefer to stay in their current home rather than move to receive the services and care they need, Danner said.

Ashland At Home currently provides transportation and personal, household and technology services and organizes a variety of programs, discussion groups and outings for members, who pay an annual fee of $500 each or $600 per couple.

Members request a service via phone or email, and Danner inputs the request into a system that shoots an email to volunteers who can provide that service.

Services include giving rides to and from an appointment, going grocery shopping, preparing meals, taking care of a pet, providing respite for a caregiver, doing light house cleaning or a simple handyman chore, and setting up computer programs or DVD players.

Ashland At Home receives about 30 requests a week and, of those, more than half are for transportation, Danner said.

“The baby boomers are the people that need this, and the idea is to keep people in their homes longer,” said David Florian, a volunteer, member and one of  the founders. “Before, people were having to move into a retirement home simply because they couldn't climb a ladder anymore.”

On Thursday, Florian took Smith, who doesn't have a driver’s license, to and from her physical therapy appointment.

Smith said taking the bus is difficult with a walker, so transportation was one of the main reasons she became a member.

“It’s nice not having to worry about how to get somewhere,” she said.

She also plans to get some help with her garden later this spring.

“My house is really too big and my yard is too big for a lil’ old lady,” she said.

Now in its third year, Ashland At Home has nearly 70 volunteers and serves members in Ashland and Talent.

Nancy Zaremski works in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's costume shop and volunteers for Ashland At Home on her days off. She’s also one of five volunteers surveying members for the study.

“My mother doesn't live in the area, so I’m one of those children of an aging adult who is not there to take care of that parent,” she said. “I wish there was an organization like this for my mom.”

For more information about Ashland At Home and the study, visit www.ashlandathome.org.

 Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.