It Takes a Village
by Marlene Bagdikian
Ashby Village member
"As the longevity revolution unfolds, senior villages will become one of the distinctive
social inventions of our time…. These virtual villages offer an affordable way for seniors
to find the practical support, companionship, and cultural vitality they need while
remaining in their own homes and neighborhoods."
— Theodore Roszak, The Making of an Elder Culture, and founding
member of Ashby Village
Seniors in the East Bay who want to remain in their own homes and communities when life grows
more difficult and complicated at last have a way to make that possible. They can join Ashby
Village, a virtual village that offers members an amazing array of services.
In 2006, The New York Times published an article about Beacon Hill Village in Boston, the first
such community dedicated to helping residents in the area age in place and not in remote
institutions. Since then, the concept has become a movement! Over 150 Villages are now
operating or being formed throughout the country, and the number is growing.
The New York Times article sparked a conversation among Berkeley neighbors who wanted their
own aging to be different from that of their parents’ generation. They wanted to plan before a
crisis erupted, wanted to help friends and neighbors, but most of all, they wanted to be in charge
of their later years and have their kids to know their wishes.
And thus in 2010, Ashby village was launched, a virtual community that includes residents of
Berkeley, Albany, Kensington, El Cerrito, and the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland. It gives
village members independence and it relieves family members of worry and obligation.
Within one short year, AV now has 161 members and is growing weekly. It has trained 54
volunteers, responded to 152 requests and made 45 referrals to service providers. It is supported
by membership dues and volunteering skills and, most significant perhaps, by members who have
both the time and the wish to help friends and neighbors.
How does it work? AV has only one full-time employee, executive director Andy Gaines, who
delegates and supervises a myriad of committees and activities. There are home-based volunteer
services as far-ranging as transportation to a doctor or grocery shopping, a house visit to change a
lightbulb or hang a picture, or a supportive presence at a time when one does not want to be by
oneself. One member called AV when she found herself alone as her husband was facing
unexpected and potentially serious surgery. Two volunteers waited with her, ready to stay the
night if need be. The surgery was successful, but she writes that “we had never met before; we
have not seen each other since … but I will be grateful to them forever.”
Some services are not performed by volunteers. AV now has 101 service providers who have been
fully approved. These one-call vetted concierge referrals can include gardeners, painters,
attorneys, accountants, and personal care attendants. After a single call to AV, for example, a
member with a broken backdoor lock had it fixed by an experienced carpenter for the reasonable
fee of $50 and the door could be locked that evening.
Access to support and services are key elements but creating community within the Village is the
secret to success. Members meet at potluck dinners, poetry readings, luncheon outings and
holiday parties and educational events have focused on problem memory issues or how to ensure
an ethical will. It is membership needs and interests that determine cultural, social, and
educational events and gatherings.
Ashby Village invites anyone living in its service area to Come and Join.
For more information about Ashby Village, click on http://www.ashbyvillage.org/, call 510-
204-9200, or email firstname.lastname@example.org