Retirees can stay at home, but age in good company

Pat Adams (from left), Jane Messick, Bob Foster, and Jeanne Maxwell, on a boat ride on the Schuylkill, are members of East Falls Village, an online-organized group of retirees. (MARY FLOURNOY)

Want to buck the retirement cliche? Sometimes, it takes a village.

East Falls Village was founded by and for retirees who want to grow old in their own homes. Senior residents of the Philadelphia neighborhood founded the "virtual" retirement community, part of a nationwide trend that has caught on locally.

Created in 2011, East Falls Village started with 65 people and now has 166. Members pay annual dues ($125 for individuals, and up) to join a handpicked and vetted network of volunteers, caretakers, drivers, housekeepers, and repair people. The village functions as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, using the insurance of the East Falls Community Council.

"I've been in it since the beginning," says East Falls Village cochair Mary Flournoy.

"Many of our members wouldn't be able to remain in their houses without the village. They call one phone number, and we get them rides to doctors, grocery stores, drugstores. We have an extensive social calendar. There's a monthly lunch. And there's always someone to hang out."

These folks see themselves as blazing a trail for seniors. The national Village to Village Network even has a home page (www.vtvnetwork.org), through which retirees can learn how to set up a volunteer-run system providing services over blocks or miles.

St. Louis-based Arthur Culbert, a Village to Village Network board member, explains retirement villages as "a social movement. We as a nation have no idea what to do with 10,000 people who retire every day. So a small group of women in Boston got together and created it with the first Beacon Hill Village.

"It keeps retirees engaged, addresses isolation and depression as we age. As a public health solution, it works really well," Culbert says.

He estimates that 160 retirement villages currently operate in the United States, and that more than 100 are in development.

There are three in Philadelphia: Penn Village in Center City, East Falls Village, and Northwest Village Network in Mount Airy.

Recently, residents in Fairmount asked East Falls Village's Flournoy to give a presentation on how to found a retirement "village" there.

"It gets people out of their houses, out of isolation," says Joe Terry, an East Falls Village member who lives alone in a two-story house. "I don't plan to move, and when my time comes, there will be someone to do for me. And that feels good."

Another plus? Not moving to a 55-and-older retirement community, where "everyone looks like you. Here, there are several generations. It's not homogeneous," says Culbert.

East Falls Village members participate in the "Read to Me" program, reading to schoolchildren at the local Thomas Mifflin Elementary School.

Villages stave off loneliness. One woman just joined after recently losing her husband, and it's typical in a village that members rally around.

"I worked all my life, and then my husband died. I really didn't know anyone," Connie Deasy said during an East Falls Village lunch and tour of the Provenance antiques warehouse. "Now I've met people from all over East Falls."

"When you retire, you lose all your contacts and enter a vacuum," says village cofounder Charlie Day. "The village helps you build contacts in the community versus in business.

"We're a new model for aging," Day says. "We help each other rather than rely on just the government. And it's not bricks-and-mortar, it's virtual."

East Falls Village members also are tech savvy, attending lectures on Internet safety, how not to be hacked or defrauded online, even how to stream free movies.

"My iPad froze," recalls cochair Phil Hineline, a retired Temple University professor. "A volunteer in the network brought over an external mouse and fixed it immediately. He really knew his stuff."

Though wine tastings, museum visits, and long walks are the norm, not all outings and topics are lighthearted. Some include lectures on hospice care, Alzheimer's, and hearing loss.

"It's a community that's not so complicated. It's back to the future with the village," Culbert says.

And members like that they're not relying solely on family members for care, Day adds.

"The village," he says, "eliminates the guilt trip of depending on the same person over and over."


earvedlund@phillynews.com

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