Guilderland Neighbors to offer help with aging in place 

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Seniors arrive at the Guilderland Public Library on Jan. 16 for the launch of a new program to be offered regularly by Albany County at locations throughout the county. 

GUILDERLAND — A “village” is taking shape in the town of Guilderland, with the aim of helping elderly residents stay in their own homes longer. 

An inaugural meeting of Guilderland Neighbors, part of the grassroots “village movement,” will be held Feb. 18 from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Guilderland Public Library, Supervisor Peter Barber announced at the end of the town board meeting on Jan. 21. 

The event is sponsored by the Albany Guardian Society and is intended to get people interested, Barber said. 

“Villages” are grassroots, not-for-profit organizations that provide services, activities, and social connection for older residents, to help them age in place for as long as possible. Villages are membership-driven, with members paying dues, and are run by volunteers or paid staff, or a combination of both. 

Benefits to village members include rides to medical appointments; help with household tasks; and social activities such as book clubs, exercise groups, or educational programs that help them “keep informed, engaged, and active,” according to a flyer announcing the event, from Capital Region Villages Collaborative. The collaborative, which seeks to start, operate, and support villages in the area, is run by the Albany Guardian Society, which provides a wide range of services to seniors. 

The nation’s first such village, Beacon Hill Village, was established in Boston in 2002. Today there are more than 260 villages operating across the country, with another 80 in development, according to the collaborative’s website. Eighteen villages exist in New York State, and several are being formed in the Capital District. 

Most all-volunteer villages have annual dues that average from $100 to $250, according to the collaborative’s website; villages with paid staff often have higher membership dues. 

According to a 2018 study by the American Association of Retired Persons, or AARP, 76 percent of Americans age 50 and older say they would prefer to remain in their current home as long as possible, but only 46 percent believe it will be possible to do so.

The same survey found that 56 percent of adults age 50 and above would consider joining a village to help them age in place.

The population of New Yorkers aged 65 and older has increased 26 percent over the last decade, according to a paper, “New York’s Older Population Is Booming Statewide,” on the website of the independent think-tank Center for an Urban Future.  

Albany County is following that trend, with an increase of 23 percent over the past decade, rising to almost 50,000 in 2017. Nine percent live in poverty.

At the January town board meeting, Barber said the Feb. 18 inaugural session is “for seniors who may want to continue to live in their homes or may want to relocate but would like help with such matters as rides to doctors’ offices.” 


A village rises again in Bethlehem 

Laura Jonas is the interim president of Bethlehem Neighbors, a village that is starting in Bethlehem. She works as a consultant for Community Caregivers, where her role is to facilitate the development of villages, and she has taken the reins temporarily as the Bethlehem group got started, but is stepping down soon. 

She explained the history of that village. 

It started in 2014, in Colonial Acres, a neighborhood within the town of Bethlehem. That group had trouble finding people who were willing to serve as the village’s driving forces, and eventually disbanded. 

With help from the Albany Guardian Society and Community Caregivers, Bethlehem Neighbors got a new board and started up again, this time with a larger geographical focus representing the entire town. 

The group meets for coffee hours and dinners, and some guided tours of area sites, Jonas said. “We’re focusing on social activities right now, and the plan is to start offering rides to each other.” 

She explained that Community Caregivers and the town’s Senior Services both offer rides to medical appointments, but only within certain hours. In addition, she said, there are other places that older residents might want to go, such as programs at the library, if they got a ride. 

Other residents might need help with services such as having someone put their trash cans by the curb once a week. 

Bethlehem’s Senior Services, and particularly its director, Jane Sanders, have been extremely supportive in helping the village identify the gaps in the services that the town provides, Jonas said. The YMCA has also been very supportive, she said, offering the group meeting space as well as the use of its pavilion for the village’s annual picnic. 

Jonas will also help facilitate the village in Guilderland. 

Villages are getting started, she said, in NIskayuna, Clifton Park, and northern Columbia County. There are also efforts afoot, she said, to start grassroots groups in different neighborhoods in Albany. 

One option for Guilderland Neighbors would be to partner with Community Caregivers, said Michael Burgess, health consultant with Community Caregivers. 

Villages have sometimes done that or partnered with the senior services offered by their municipality, he said. 

“Community Caregivers would consider that kind of partnership, or would consider taking the lead if people wanted that,” Burgess said of Guilderland Neighbors. 


In Albany, an experiment ends

A village can also help seniors to thrive after downsizing or relocating, as one did for several years in Livingston School Apartments — the site of a former middle school repurposed as moderate-income housing — on Northern Boulevard in Albany. 

Livingston Village operated as a partnership with LifePath, formerly known as Senior Services of Albany. 

Membership was optional, and about 30 of the building’s 100 or so residents were members. 

Members seemed to love the social connections the village provided. Two years ago, member Joan Sherwood had told The Enterprise happily, “We women never touch a flake of snow.” 

Men who lived in the building and also were members would come by when it snowed and knock on the door, ask for the women’s car keys, and move their cars to let the snowplows through. Members went on outings and sometimes cooked shared dinners. One member who knew how to fix cars helped other members with small repairs free of charge. 

Monika Boeckmann, executive director of LifePath, said that Livingston Village dissolved in mid-2019. The village had been under the support of the agency, which had been working to get it off the ground, she said. 

“After three-and-a-half years of support, we are no longer able to provide the village with staff support,” she said. LifePath does still have a small congregate meal program at Livingston School Apartments, she said, and provides some meals and some recreational programs there. 

Betsy Mulvey of the Albany Guardian Society also discussed what happened with Livingston Village. Mulvey is project director of the Village Technical Assistance Center, a joint initiative of the society and the state’s Office for Aging. 

Livingston Village was an example, she said, of a “top-down” village, run by an outside organization that then had wanted to hand over the reins to members, but had been unable to make that transition.

The model that seems to have the most longevity, Mulvey said, is the “bottom-up” types, those that have a number of passionate people at the helm who are “creative problem-solvers, who can weave together a core that can leverage people with different life skills.” 

 A top-down structure probably gives members the message, Mulvey said, that they don’t need to do much to keep their village running. 


An idea grows in Guilderland 

The idea for a village in Guilderland — like Bethlehem, a prosperous suburb of Albany —  got started when Ken Harris of the Albany Guardian Society raised it to the ad hoc community group Guilderland Cares, said Timothy Wiles, director of the Guilderland Public Library. 

Guilderland Cares “came together a bit organically among some local people who are all in the human-service business one way or another,” said Wiles. The founders were, he said, Sue Hennessy and Mark Hopper from the Guilderland Food Pantry.

The group started, Wiles thinks, when food-pantry volunteers were hearing a lot about other needs and wanted to create a clearinghouse for clients looking for help in other areas, including medical, psychological, or legal services. 

Guilderland Cares also had representatives from the town, the library, the YMCA, local churches, and Community Caregivers at its first meeting; later the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce and other organizations got involved, Wiles recalled. 

The group discussed how all of those different organizations could work together to address needs in the community, said Barber, listing not only elderly residents but also people with disabilities or people who may not speak English. 

“As all those groups are attempting to meet community needs, in many cases needs related to aging, the concept of aging in place was a natural fit for us,” Wiles said. 

The village movement, said Barber, is intended to support seniors and disabled persons who want to stay in their homes. “Studies show,” he said, “most want to stay in their homes. Some also want to downsize. How do we support that?” 

One tangible result of Guilderland Cares is a directory published in 2018 of helpful area services and organizations, including disability services, churches, educational offerings, food pantries, health-related organizations, groups dedicated to mental health, legal support, and more. The directory is available on the town’s website. 

More Guilderland News

  • On Aug. 7, the Guilderland Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a public hearing on a proposal from Kent Hansen to turn the former Peter Young Center at 1180 Berne-Altamont Road into the Inns of Altamont.  

  • “This certification comes at an opportune time as the Town is in the process of updating the comprehensive plan and determining how we want our community to grow over the next 10 to 20 years,” said Kenneth Kovalchik.

  • “I think the reason is because you want to do long-term planning and a lot of times you can’t do something in two years …,” said Supervisor Peter Barber. “You can’t do something without worrying about how people might perceive it.

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