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'Village' living catches on

I heard an interesting comment recently: "As long as I don't look in the mirror, I can be any age I want."

It's attributed to a woman named Thelma, "a majestically erect octogenarian" who is reported to be working full-time.

Thelma and her 60-something children are contemplating where they want to live out their final years. According to author Gail Sheehy, who discussed later-in-life living situations in a recent USA Today article, the idea of moving into a "retirement community" sometimes brings up a response that sounds akin to, "Hell no, we won't go."

That seems a little harsh to me; over-reactive. I know retirement communities that are quite splendid places to live. And I know older adults who happily reside in these residences or look forward to moving in. For aging adults, especially people with means, residential retirement alternatives abound.

But for some of us, "staying put" appeals more — living in our own home with our own things around us, as independently as we can, for as long as possible. If that's you, there's a new concept surfacing that's referred to as "The Village Movement," which grew from ideas originally tried in Boston and other largely Eastern cities. The idea is "self-governing membership" in a community where there is a single number to call to arrange the services you might need.

To be sure, there's a buy-in amount for this convenience. But it's not a huge sum. In Ashby Village in Berkeley Calif., (www.ashbyvillage.org) it's $750 annually. As the website indicates, "one telephone call gets you vetted concierge referrals to paid service providers that include gardeners, painters, attorneys, accountants and personal-care attendants." When you live in Ashby Village (or other villages like it), you get easily connected with what you need. To reduce the cost, many of the services provided are offered by residents within the same village on a home-based, volunteer basis. Splendid, don't you think?

And the volunteers providing services are not just people living in the village who may be younger and more fit. Many are, in fact, the oldest village residents. But they have specific talents or interests and the willingness to help someone who needs their dog walked or a ride to the doctor — maybe a few minor household repairs. It's especially appealing, I suspect, to women. As Gail Sheehy writes in her most recent book, "Passages to Caregiving," "women anticipate being caregivers, while men anticipate being cared for by their wives."

This concept sort of levels the playing field. I think the Village Movement plays well with unattached elders too.

Closer to home, I live in a neighborhood doing this sort of thing right now. It's a village within a village. It happened by accident — "relationships built on affection not obligation." We could probably use some of the formalized approaches that Ashby touts, and I intend to explore the possibilities.

In fact, as part of the "Mastery of Aging Well" online course I am offering through Oregon State University starting in April, I intend to take interested participants in the direction of the village. Check out http://outreach.oregonstate.edu/aging-well to learn more.

Join me if you choose. That's exactly what aging well is all about — informed choice.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.