Intentional Community…build our own?

The Tribune featured a interesting article on how to provide community services for future seniors .. that means you!  ..  who want to stay in their homes and communities.  Perhaps we can build our own version of the featured Lincoln Park Village organization.  Lets us know your thoughts!,0,5870450.story

It takes a village to age in place

Intentional communities provide seniors the option to remain in their own homes

By Jane Adler, Special to Tribune Newspapers

11:16 AM CDT, August 27, 2010

Forget the golf and potluck dinners. Some retirement villages just don’t fit the usual stereotypes.

Take Lincoln Park Village on the city’s North Side, for example. It’s not a building for seniors but an intentional community, a concept spreading across the nation.

Intentional communities, or villages, are designed to help older people stay in their own homes and longtime neighborhoods as they age, instead of moving to a retirement building. Seniors pay an annual membership fee to join the village, which covers a particular neighborhood, such as Lincoln Park.

Village members volunteer to help each other with the kind of tasks that often become troublesome with age, such as transportation and household chores. Service providers fill in when volunteers aren’t available or don’t have the needed expertise. The village also provides social activities to keep members in touch with the wider community and even home care after a hospital stay.

Retired broadcaster Warner Saunders, who anchored the news on WMAQ-TV for years, has lived in his Lincoln Park house for 17 years. He and his wife, Sadako, joined Lincoln Park Village last year.

“When you get older, you realize it might be a good idea to have some services,” said Saunders, who doesn’t want to move. The village helped him find doctors through its association with Rush University Medical Center.

The couple also attends village social events. Saunders participated in a June panel discussion to mark the first anniversary of the opening of Lincoln Park Village. The panel included best-selling author Gail Sheehy, who recently finished a new book, “Passages in Caregiving.” About 300 people attended the event.

“The village understands what we’re all about,” Saunders said. “There’s nothing they haven’t been able to provide.”

Studies have shown that older people would prefer to stay in their homes as they age. But seniors often need some help around the house. With that in mind, neighbors in the Beacon Hill section of Boston started the first intentional community about nine years ago. The idea soon caught on in other neighborhoods.

Today there are about 50 intentional communities nationwide, according to the Village to Village Network (, an information clearinghouse for intentional communities. The network provides support to new intentional communities, offering advice and technical assistance on how to run a village.

After hearing about the village movement, Mike and Judy Spock, along with two other couples, started Lincoln Park Village in 2009. “With this idea we had an alternative to a retirement building,” said Mike Spock.

The couple had put down a deposit on an apartment in a retirement building in Evanston. But now that the village is up and running, the couple is getting the help they need to stay in their house. “It’s really working for us,” Spock said.

The intentional village concept is spreading locally. At the end of July, Lincoln Park Village merged with Lakeview Village, an intentional community that had been in the planning stages. At the same time, Lincoln Park Village expanded its service area and now covers other Near North neighborhoods.

Another intentional village operating in the Chicago area is North Shore Village, which opened in February. It covers Evanston and Wilmette. Other villages are being started in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood and downtown.

Annual memberships cost about $550. The Lincoln Park and North Shore groups each have about 150 members. Members must live in the neighborhood the village serves.

Lincoln Park Village members must be 50 or older; North Shore Village members, 60 or older. Volunteers, however, can be any age, though most are village members.

The most commonly requested services are for transportation and handyman-type jobs, said Helen Gagel, executive director of North Shore Village. An Evanston resident, Gagel is also a village member and volunteer gardener. Just about any request can be handled, she noted. One member requested help to make sense of a long-term care insurance policy. Another member needed a ride to a nighttime lecture.

“We are here for our members,” said Gagel.

Volunteers typically fill most requests at no charge. If a volunteer can’t be found, then a service provider, vetted by the village, is recommended. The member must pay for those services.

“We always circle back with members to gauge their experience with the service provider,” said Dianne Campbell, founding executive director at Lincoln Park Village, with offices at 2502 N. Clark St.

Village members have a newfound sense of security. “We know someone is available to help,” said Saunders.

Lynn Lawson and her husband, Courtney, joined North Shore Village last year. The couple, who have lived in their Evanston home since 1961, can’t move to a retirement building because Lynn is highly sensitive to chemicals. As a result, the Lawsons have outfitted their house with special air and water filters.

“We needed a way to stay in our own house, and the village is the answer,” Lynn said.

Like many village members, the Lawsons have also revitalized their social life. They attend village-sponsored lectures, and Lynn joins the drop-in lunches held Mondays at local restaurants. “I’m meeting new people,” she said.

Lincoln Park Village offered more than 1,100 activities and programs during its first year of operation, said Campbell. “Social engagement is essential for healthy aging,” she said.

Volunteering to help other members isn’t required, but it does strengthen the village’s social bonds.

Kay Smith, an artist who paints historical scenes, has lived in the same Lincoln Park row house since 1956. While she’s usually paid to lecture on her work, she recently held a forum for the village on the Lewis and Clark expedition. About 70 people attended, and members brought desserts inspired by a Lewis and Clark cookbook.

Smith says it’s her way of giving back to the village. In return, she’s gotten help with odd jobs around the house. But the biggest benefit to Smith has been the social connections she’s made.

“I’m getting to know so many new neighbors,” she said. “Everyone is willing to accept you.”

Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune

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