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On the House: For seniors looking to age at home, virtual villages offer support [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: BC-REAL-ONTHEHOUSE:PH]

It takes a village to raise a child, the old proverb says.

Turns out it also takes one to help an adult age.

In all corners of the United States, people who are growing older are turning to villages - virtual villages, that is - for support. Need a ride to the doctor? Someone to watch the cat while you're on vacation? The village can help. Social outings, meals, movies, and seminars? Depending on the virtual village, all of that can be available to members, as well.

Born out of Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood in 2002, virtual villages have rapidly spread across the country in recent years as another twist on the peer-to-peer economy. Now, with more than 200 villages in 45 states and Washington, D.C., plus 150 more villages in development, according to the national Village to Village network, virtual villages have become a forceful movement to help offset the social and financial housing challenges facing many aging residents.

The idea is relatively simple: Seniors who choose to "age in place," meaning they remain in their homes as they grow older, can pay an annual fee to join a virtual village, if available in their area. From there, members can access numerous resources - everything from ride services to social outings to educational information - all of which are typically run by volunteers. The membership fee and services offered vary by village.

Started as a grassroots movement by seniors themselves, these villages offer one solution to a senior housing dilemma arising across the country as demographics and housing preferences change. Americans are living longer, staying healthier, and want to reside longer in their homes. According to a study by the nonprofit AARP, 90 percent of people who are 65 and older say they want to age in their own homes.

Part of the reason for that age-in-place preference, senior housing advocates say, is a desire for familiarity, comfort, and greater financial freedom. One-third of adults 50 or older are considered "cost-burdened" because they pay 30 percent of their income on housing, and almost a quarter of homeowners in that demographic pay more than 50 percent for shelter, according to a 2014 report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

As a result, finding affordable 55-plus complexes, assisted-living facilities, or nursing homes can be a significant challenge. Aging-in-place advocates say villages can fill the gap.

"We try to do anything that a neighbor would do for somebody," said Jane Eleey, 72, executive director of Penn's Village, the virtual village in Philadelphia's Center City area. "But we're not a home health-care agency; we're not a social-service agency. We're a neighborhood organization of folks who want to remain in the community and want to be supportive of each other."

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Readers may email Caitlin McCabe at cmccabe@philly.com or write her at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia PA 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies.

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(c)2018 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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