It Takes a Village to Age in Place

Published in Senior Digest, February 2015

The simple act of joining his good friend, Reverend James Ishmael Ford, of the First Unitarian Church of Providence, for a quick cup of coffees piqued Cy O’Neil’s curiosity and led him on a journey to learn more about a new care option popping up around the nation, one that allows aging baby boomers to age in place right in the comfort of their home.

During their coffee chats, Ford, a native of California, began talking about his upcoming retirement, planning to return to his home state to be near his children.  But, he stressed the importance that his new California community must be located near a village.

O’Neil was intrigued and began Googling for information on specific villages, one was the The Beacon Hill Village.  He quickly got the concept.  Villages are created by membership-driven grass-roots organizations, with volunteers and paid staff, who coordinate access to affordable services, transportation, health and wellness programs, home repairs, social and educational activities, and other day-to-day needs enabling older persons to remain connected to their neighborhood community throughout the aging process.

According to Village to Village Network, there are now over 120 villages operating across the nation, in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, with over a 100 additional Villages being developed.

Like many aging baby boomers, sixty-five-year old O’Neill did not want to leave his comfortable home in his later years, but stay put in his long-time Oakhill neighborhood.  The Village on Providence’s Eastside might just be the way to assist neighbors working together to successfully keep each other right in their homes, far away from assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

Creating Providence Village

Last February, O’Neill and several friends, over pot luck dinners, began  brainstorming how the Village concept could be brought to the Ocean State. One of the oldest Village organizations, The Beacon Hill Village, was established in Boston in 2001.  Why couldn’t the successfully run, The Beacon Hill Village, be replicated right here in Rhode Island, they asked.

Three pot luck dinners along with a larger event that drew over 30 attendees, resulted in a group of nine people who decided to launch an effort to create what they call the Providence Village.  This group consisted of a writer, editor, a geriatrician, college educators and administrators, people with business backgrounds, and artists.

“Rhode Island is the only state that does not have a village yet,” quips O’Neil.  There have been other attempts to bring The Village concept to Rhode Island but the failed,” he believes.

O’Neil, Boston College’s associate director for long-range planning and capital, notes that the Providence Village is still in the exploratory phase, gathering information.  The Steering Group is reaching out to Eastside Community in Providence through a survey on its website ( to identify the types of programs and services needed and identifying potential partners.  When completed, the Steering Group will move the organization into development phase where “serious planning begins to take place,” adds O’Neil.  At this phase, member benefits will be determined, organizational partners identified, and an operational, business and marketing plan developed.  .

“So far our responses have been very positive,” observes O’Neil.  “We’re energized by these responses and are very committed to rolling up our sleeves to make Village Providence work,” he says, noting that the Steering Group wants to create more opportunities to get more people involved to make Providence Village a reality.

Thoughts From Steering Group Members

Pat Gifford, MD, a retired geriatrician who is certified in hospice and palliative care who has practiced for over 30 years, brings her medical expertise and understanding of aging issues to the Steering Group.  The sixty-six year old Laurel Mead resident sees the village movement targeted to aging baby boomers.  “The Village is not a social service agency to take care of frail people,” she notes, but a “way of organizing people to take care of each other, often involving volunteering and a measure of paying-it-forward.”

Gifford, who brings extensive experience about the Village movement to the Steering Group, would like to write and teach on health and wellness issues for the members of the Providence Village, especially providing support to self-supportive groups for those with chronic diseases.  “It’s up to the Board of Village members if they are interested in these efforts,” she says.

According to Gifford, the key to Providence Village being a success is garnering strong grass roots support.  “It is important for people to go to visit our web site and complete our survey, so that we can understand the needs and desires of our unique community,” she adds.

A Final Note…

“The village movement is one of many approaches to senior living that AARP encourages,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “It’s impractical for many people to simply remain in the family homestead forever. It’s not ‘Aging in Place’ if the place isn’t right for you. Most people talk about downsizing as if it is all there is to be said about housing options. It’s not true, and we’re happy to see growing awareness that less house to maintain is really only part of the solution.

“One’s house and one’s home are two different things. You can choose another house, but people are most comfortable when they make a new home in an environment where they feel comfortable and live in proximity to the services and support they require as they age. AARP calls these livable communities and they are aligned with the thinking behind the village movement.

“Rhode Island does not have unlimited space to build new retirement communities. We need a balance of traditional senior housing development and the creative thinking and the adaptive use of existing housing.“

For more details about Providence Village go to

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s