Neighbors helping Neighbors Age Independently at Home
How do you want to grow older? In your own home among family and friends, with your pets, your garden, your memories and the things you love?
Decades ago, we used to gather for long, lively dinners with quantities of food and wine that lasted deep into the evening and involved much love and laughter. Even back then, we knew how we wanted to live when we were old and grey. It looked pretty similar to the way we were living at the time… but with a little help. Perhaps someone to drive us places, do the heavy lifting and keep our lives in some semblance of order so we could continue to enjoy family, friends and home.
One thing we knew for certain: not one of us wanted to go into a nursing home, but we didn’t quite know how we were going to avoid it. Now we do, thanks to the Village concept of aging.
Santa Fe Neighbors/Vecinos de Santa Fe is one of nearly 400 Villages throughout the U.S. in which members and volunteers together provide the physical services, social engagement and timely referrals necessary to help us stay in our own homes, make our own choices, and fully inhabit our own lives as we age. This is an old idea, but a fairly new development for many of us who grew up in the 20th century.
An Exceedingly Brief History of Elder Care in America
Until the 19th and 20th centuries, aging was a natural process. The few people who managed to reach old age lived out their days with their families in their communities. Esteemed for their knowledge and skills, the old were responsible for passing on core values and traditions of their culture to future generations.
However, the Industrial Revolution, two world wars and a shrinking globe rapidly altered the world’s social order. The creation of a new, prosperous, mobile, fast-moving consumer culture marginalized the once-valued contributions of older Americans, who began to be warehoused together, isolated from family, friends and community in safe but sterile facilities.
It wasn’t until 2002 that the idea of “aging in place” became a viable alternative to the institutionalizing of old folks. In Boston, Massachusetts, a small determined group of seniors decided to find a better way, and banded together to create Beacon Hill Village—a neighborhood network of volunteers and services that provided members with the help they needed to age safely and comfortably in their own homes despite harsh winters and steep flights of stairs.
The Benefits of Aging Well, in Place
Since its inception, the Village concept has resonated strongly with people from all walks of life, backgrounds and age groups because (as our forebears instinctively knew) it provides immense tangible and intangible benefits to all who participate.
For younger seniors who are generally in good health but may be freshly retired and seeking new ways to live meaningfully, Villages offer intellectual stimulation, opportunities to help others and pathways to new community. For older seniors or seniors with health issues that require help with some of the instruments of daily living, such as transportation, shopping, meal preparation, chores and housework, Villages provide real support through volunteers, comprehensive resource lists of providers and a variety of social, cultural and physical activities that make life rich and normal.
How Santa Fe Neighbors Works
For people of any age, volunteering offers the opportunity to stay active physically, mentally and socially, to have meaningful interactions across generations and to make a real difference in others’ lives. From stopping by to say “hi,” to changing a light bulb or walking a dog, to providing transportation to a doctor or picking up groceries, to teaching someone to text or FaceTime, volunteers choose the kinds of help they are able to offer, when and where they can offer it, and whether to volunteer solo or with a family member or friend.
To request a service, a member needs to make only one call to Santa Fe Neighbors or make the request online, and an email goes out to every volunteer who provides that particular type of service. The volunteer signs up; we notify the member with details, and follow up afterward by checking to make sure the service was completed to the satisfaction of all concerned. All volunteers are vetted and insured.
Plan for tomorrow. Live for today.
Santa Fe Neighbors is a grassroots, member-driven, self-governing, self-supporting, nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization designed to help Santa Fe County residents over the age of 55 live comfortably and safely at home. We are here to provide peace of mind for seniors and their families, with support when and where it is needed.
Santa Fe is blessed with many things, including excellent organizations that serve the elderly, but they cannot possibly provide all the services we need now and in the future. According to U.S. census figures, the number of people older than 65 in Santa Fe County grew from 21,770 to 31,075 between 2010 and 2015, an increase of well over 40 percent, and this trend is continuing strongly everywhere.
By adding a layer of personal support and connections to existing services, Santa Fe Neighbors, like other Villages across the country, is helping forge a dynamic, diverse community of friendship and empowerment for those of us lucky enough to live right here in our glorious part of the world.
Terri Jerry, formerly creative director/partner of a small marketing and advertising firm, is a board member of Santa Fe Neighbors. She has done extensive volunteer work with the Women’s International Study Center, the Museum of International Folk Art and Girls, Inc.