Virtual Villages: What a Fabulous Idea

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By Bob Lowry

While reading Tom Sightings’ excellent blog, Sightings at 60, I came across a concept I was unfamiliar with: virtual villages. His post referred to an article in the New York Times that provided a thorough and intriguing explanation of this idea for shared communal living – but without living together.For many retirees, a goal is to remain in one’s home and in one’s neighborhood for as long as possible until health issues force a move. One of the problems that choice can trigger is loneliness. Unless one’s neighborhood has a number of folks of similar age and mobility, it is easy to become isolated. Friendships are difficult to maintain or start anew. Also, finding workmen who can be trusted to perform home repairs or modifications becomes a crap shoot. We are aware of companies that take advantage of seniors, turning simple repairs into costly replacement projects.Welcome a new approach to aging in place: a group of people who form social connections and share information on service companies that have by verified by members. There can be a cadre of volunteers who help in dog walking, grocery shopping, or yard work.

Virtual Village members may meet in someone’s home for a meal, discuss a book or current events. Meeting at a restaurant for happy hour or a movie theater to see a feature film together are common occurrences. Importantly, these are true communities where new friendships are formed and nurtured. Members watch out for each other and offer the caring support of an extended family.

Virtual village members can stay in touch through special village websites and email. Many also use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to stay in touch and foster friendships.

A company has been formed to help manage, promote, and coordinate these villages. According to the Village to Village Network there are 140 virtual villages established in 40 states with another 125 or so on the drawing board. For a monthly fee of about $30-$40 a month members get access to various resources and support for the group as well as forums and idea exchanges.

It would be possible for a group of people to organize a virtual village on their own and skip the cost. With today’s social media environment finding people who would like to band together for social support would not be difficult. There is a web site in Phoenix, for example, that allows like-minded people to form social organizations that cover virtually every interest and mindset.

But, the network does offer a healthy dose of organizational input and the ability to tap into ideas from other villages around the country. Many of these villages are providing tremendously valuable services to their members. With a majority of seniors desiring to remain in their homes, these virtual communities seem to be one viable option. There is a risk that a virtual village begins to promise too much and become too expensive for the members to support. Of course, then the folks who know each other can simply continue the relationships without the fancy extras.

Frankly, I found the idea very appealing. Betty and I are determined to not burden our children with our end-of-life issues, so moving into a retirement facility with assisted living and nursing care options will happen. But, that step is at least 15-20 years in the future.

In the meantime we want to remain independent, vital, and engaged with others for shared experiences and help as needed, A virtual village seem like an opportunity to do just that. I encourage you to click on the link above read the full New York Times article and then let me know what you think.

By Bob Lowry

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