When my husband and I moved into our home in Alford in the spring of 1997, we didn’t plan on moving again. We built just after my mother’s death at 93, so I was sensitive to the limits of old age. Though it’s three stories, the essential living space in our home is all on one floor. But comfortably aging in place in the Berkshires is not a simple matter. That’s why I was interested when I first heard about the “villages” concept.
Across the country, from Boston to San Francisco, 230 grassroots “villages” are helping elders remain in their homes with services such as transportation, home repair help, social connections and tech support. Howard and Shirley Shapiro of Lenox have been working on bringing this concept to the Berkshires for more than three years. They created Villages of the Berkshires, a nonprofit. This month, Villages of the Berkshires will begin a pilot project for Lenox, Stockbridge and Pittsfield. Twenty households have signed up.
I attended an information session in Pittsfield last December and knew the concept was just what I needed to stay in my own home as I age. There are many models for villages, none of which are new construction. The concept keeps people in their own homes. Because the Berkshires are so geographically dispersed, the Shapiros selected a “hub and spoke” model with a central “village” handling the logistics and affiliated villages organizing locally. This model has worked successfully for Marin Villages in California, where the village movement celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
After a lot of discussion, I agreed to help bring the concept to South County. Because seniors in Sheffield, Alford, Great Barrington and Egremont (SAGE) were already working together, that seemed a natural combination. Chet Delaney, Rich Petrino, Kate Sontag and Mary Stephen joined the effort, and we set dates for two information sessions for SAGE Village.
The second meeting is Saturday, Oct. 5, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Berkshire South Regional Community Center. More than 40 people attended the first information session at the North Egremont Firehouse on Sept. 21.
Villages are membership-based: Members pay an annual fee ($360 for a single member, $540 for a couple) in exchange for help with transportation, home repairs, hiring contractors, social opportunities and other resources. The village network also includes a volunteer component for people interested in helping their elder neighbors remain in their homes.
Villages of the Berkshires is a partner with Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College and collaborates with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission’s Age Friendly Berkshires initiative. The Berkshire-based organization is a member of the national Village to Village Network.