MONTPELIER — Older residents of the Capital City are exploring creating a “village” to help the elderly age gracefully in place.

The “Village Model” makes it possible for elderly people to remain independent in their homes with the help of community support, a network of volunteers and trusted service providers.

The idea for a village in Montpelier is based on the original model in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston in 2001, started by a committed group of seniors who wanted to remain in their own homes. It has mushroomed into a national organization, Village to Village, that helped spread the word and organize communities in hundreds of cities and towns. Villages already established in Vermont include Mount Mansfield Villages and Lamoille Neighbors.

These villages provide a range of community and social services, such as transportation, health and wellness programs, home repairs, social activities and educational opportunities. Villages also provide access to vetted and discounted service providers and reduce the overall cost of care.

In Montpelier, the idea for a village began with resident Erica Garfin. At age 68, Garfin said she was starting to realize there were some things that she could no longer do easily, and would have to start thinking about adapting to aging in her home.

“I knew about this from the work that I used to do before I retired,” Garfin said. “I was an independent consultant in human and social services, and quite a bit of that work was in the world of aging and disabilities.

“I had heard about the village model several years earlier, and it always seemed like such a great idea,” Garfin added.

Garfin said it led to a series of community discussions about “successful aging” a year ago, and the formation of the Montpelier Village Group.

“For many of us, what brought us to those discussions was thinking about having our own elderly parents,” Garfin said. “It’s one thing to think about a theoretical model. But as I began to get older myself, it was no longer theoretical. If I was smart, these were things that I had to think about for myself.”

Fellow member Andrea Stander decided to measure interest for the Montpelier Village Group with a survey during Tuesday’s election at City Hall, and gathered more than 150 written responses and another 60 online.

“Based on the demographics that we’ve seen, there’s about 3,000 people in Montpelier who are over 50,” Stander said. “So, we thought we would try to get 300 surveys filled out. We’re thinking we’re going to get a lot more than 300 responses by the time we’re finished.”

Stander noted that unlike other downsizing groups in the city, the Montpelier Village Group is not a brick-and-mortar building project, although she didn’t rule out the prospect.

“It’s a network of people, a support organization that is geared to identifying and seeking to provide a range of support and services,” Stander said.

“The last time I looked, there’s 200 to 300 of these villages around the country and there are other groups in Vermont that are also exploring this idea,” Stander continued. “So, we’ve been meeting about once a month since last February and looking at this idea of forming a village in Montpelier.

“Everybody who is part of the group is 50 or older. We’re interested in addressing the issues that we’re facing already — some of us are facing it in terms of caring for our parents and some of us are looking at it ourselves. It’s about how do you create a social network that can help people get help when they need it, in an affordable structure?” she added.

Stander said the group has been having discussions with various provider organizations, such as the Vermont Council on Aging, Montpelier Senior Activity Center, Onion River Exchange and village churches that have their own self-help groups.

“People want to stay in Montpelier, and for the most part they want to stay where they are,” Stander said. “A lot of the people in the group own their homes, and others like me rent.”

Stander said the group set a deadline for the end of the year to return completed surveys.

To complete a survey or receive updates about Montpelier Village Model, email montpeliervillagegroup@gmail.com

To learn more about the national Village to Village model, visit www.vtvnetwork.org

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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