What’s a Village: Villages in The Context of Existing State Bureaucracy

By Andrew Holzman

The Chicago Hyde Park Village (CHPV), one of the three organizations hosting me as I write this column series, is the local product of a national movement.

Throughout the United States, you can find “villages,” groups of seniors who have come together to help each other age actively. Members of a village pay dues that entitle them to a number of services to help them maintain their quality of life as they age. At the very least, the village provides a senior with a list of trusted options for services an aging person might need.

Services contracted through a village, which might be free or discounted, could include home health aides or personal assistants for household chores. In some cases, villages connect seniors with volunteers who are willing to do certain basic tasks, such as dogwalking. Through volunteers and grants, villages are typically able to keep costs low, and will often provide assistance to seniors without the money to become members on their own.

CHPV is still in its early stages. The group does not yet have members, and is waiting to begin collecting fees until a service network for seniors has been established. Right now, they are accepting donations and the board is focused on social programming, including a series of social drop-in programs. The next one is July 10 at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.

The village model is one of the most promising in-home solutions for the future of aging in our country. Throughout the United States, agencies on aging are trying to reorganize to give more client-directed service. It sounds a bit complicated, but it’s actually common sense. Agencies on aging, though they’re different state-to-state, are usually government departments which oversee a set of contractors, who then in turn provide services for seniors.

What that means for you or your parents is that a local aging service provider, overseen by a state agency on aging, will be responsible for getting that needed personal assistant or health aide out to the home. Depending on the number of services a senior is receiving, he or she may be working with a number of contractors, many of whom may ultimately be accountable to the same place, but a few steps up the bureaucratic ladder. That’s confusing, and when a person needs to make a change or wants to challenge a decision it can be nearly impossible to get different parts of the system to work together.

What a move to client-directed service means is agencies on aging are trying to create a service that starts with the senior and follows her experience, rather than starting with the bureaucracy and trying to fit the senior into it.

For those who don’t have time to watch these national structures evolve, villages are a good solution. The whole model is run by the seniors receiving the services, and the entire process is accountable to a group that covers a neighborhood or rural area, rather than an entire state. The seniors’ services, even if diverse, can all be contracted through the same local source.

You can learn more about CHPV at their website, chpv.org. In Hyde Park, seniors — or anyone else — can sign up for a Google Group, HPVillage, where potential members of a future village discuss neighborhood issues and hear news about the program. To get on the list, send an e-mail request to Jay Mulberry at jaymulberry@gmail.com.