‘Villages’ for the elderly are coming to more black communities


Debora Royal has lived in Congress Heights in Ward 8 for over 50 years. And at age 65, she would like to stay in her largely African-American neighborhood.

An old friend suggested she join Kingdom Care Senior Village two years ago, after her mother’s death left her in a rut. For $10 a month, Royal has been able to take virtual dance classes, attend computer classes, go on nature walks, and take weekly trips to Walmart with other members.

“My health has changed for the better. Definitely my sanity,” Royal said.

Villages are part of a movement that began in Boston two decades ago as a way for seniors to find what they need to grow older in their own communities. Nearly 300 villages have sprung up across the country, bringing activities, transportation, tech support, home improvements, and aging services on the spot to their members, who pay anywhere from $10 to more than $60 a month to join. become. Most are grassroots organizations that operate as non-profit organizations.

Couple of, however, are like Kingdom Care, whose membership is predominantly black. Other exceptions are Golden Age Village in Baltimore, which is also predominantly black, and Hotel Oakland Village in California, which is predominantly Asian.

A 2016 University of California at Berkeley study published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology found that 96 percent of villagers were white, 77 percent owned their own homes, 70 percent were women, and 70 percent had college degrees had enjoyed. According to the Village to Village Network, most of the organizations are located on the east and west coasts, with more than 64 villages under development.

“I find myself getting a lot of messages from other villages and all the pictures I see are all white,” says Madeline Franklin, who founded STL Village, which serves black seniors in St. Louis. “And so the message that some people can take from that is that African Americans are not welcome or not part of that.”

Several factors contribute to the lack of diversity, people in the movement said.

There is a language barrier for non-English speakers, says Barbara Sullivan of the Village to Village Network, a national membership-based organization that connects villages across the United States.

Another reason is the way the movement has evolved. “I think it’s easy for people who start villages, because they’re at the grassroots, to invite people like themselves. In the model, you invite your friends,” said Charlotte Dickson, of Village Movement California, a nationwide coalition of villages.

Dickson said her organization is working to broaden its membership by recruiting in black churches, reaching more people of color and LGBTQ groups. “What we do is push people to look at what the demographics of your community are, who is in your community and what are the organizations, institutions and leaders you need to get involved with so that everyone is included ,” she said.

Membership fees were also a barrier, Dickson said. The costs vary depending on the services the organization provides. Bee Beacon Hill Village in Boston, where the movement began in 2002, members enjoy a long list of activities that include meditation classes, coffee talks, cocktail and holiday parties, travel and book clubs, concerts and theater outings, and rides to appointments. Annual membership is $675 — discounted to $110 for low-income seniors, according to the website.

At STL Village, a full membership costs about the same, dropping to $10 a month for low-income seniors, which Franklin says is still a barrier for many. The group now has a scholarship that offers free membership to those living in disadvantaged communities. That enabled STL to increase membership among people of color by 20 percent, Franklin said, and expand events and programs even to non-members.

In D.C., the city’s Department of Aging and Community Life has issued grants to subsidize fees since 2017 after acknowledging that there were no senior villages east of the Anacostia River, in neighborhoods 7 and 8.

“To expand our outreach efforts and ensure there was equity and inclusion in all eight wards, we worked with the senior villages to expand their footprint,” said Jessica Smith, the interim director of the department in an interview. “Through our partnership with senior villages, we are able to reach, support and serve more seniors, particularly in our most underserved neighborhoods in the county.”

Annually, the Department of Aging and Community Living invests more than $847,000 in 13 senior villages, with each village receiving $50,000 for programming. About 40 villages were already present when the agency submitted applications five years ago. Kingdom Care was the only village to receive money.

Kingdom Care operates out of the Greater Fellowship Full Gospel Baptist Church in Congress Heights, of which Kathy Pointer, the village’s founder and director, is a member. Realizing that a village could be a means to reach more senior citizens, Pointer, with the support of the church, quickly formed a non-profit organization and responded to the town’s request.

While most villages take years to form, Kingdom Care was up and running with 20 members within three months of getting the bid.

Today, Kingdom Care has 54 members and a dozen volunteers in a neighborhood that is more than 90 percent black and where a quarter of households fall below the poverty line. With the grant, Kingdom Care helps to ensure that low-income seniors from departments 7 and 8 can take full advantage of the available resources.

“We are currently running a project in which we try to ensure that every senior who is eligible for home care assistance receives it. Anyone who needs home-delivered meals will get it,” Pointer said.

Stories of Kingdom Care’s success have spread and established villages have reached out to Pointer for ways to get more people of color involved in the movement.

“Many of them came and said, ‘Hey, we need to do something about the differences, about the racial inequalities. We need to do something, because people of color need access to villages, too,” Pointer said.

Research shows that compared to white seniors, black seniors experience an increased risk of chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, dementia, stroke and cancer, as well as a lower life expectancy by as much as ten years due to factors such as race-related stress.

Belonging to a village can help reduce stress and loneliness in seniors. According to a 2017 report from the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for the Advanced Study, especially in the three years after joining, villagers feel they have more social support and more confidence that they can get the help they need. necessary to stay at home. of Aging Services. Villages also dramatically reduce isolation by providing opportunities for social and civic engagement.

That has been the experience for Royal, who attended Kingdom Care’s Thanksgiving celebration with 25 other members on Friday. “This has really changed my life,” she said, “because I get to do a lot of things outside the home. I get to see my senior partners.

Myah Overstreet is a writer with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism. She did this story with a grant from the SCAN Foundation.

Leave a Comment