‘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 65, she would like to stay in her predominantly African-American neighborhood.

A longtime 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 was able to take virtual dance lessons, attend computer literacy sessions, and take nature walks and weekly trips to Walmart with other members.

“My health has improved. Definitely my mental health,” Royal said.

The villages are part of a movement that began in Boston two decades ago to allow seniors to find what they need to age in their own community. Nearly 300 villages have sprung up across the country, offering activities, transportation, technical support, home improvements and on-site aging services to their members, who pay between $10 and over $60 a month. to join. Most are grassroots organizations that operate as nonprofit organizations.

Little, however, are like Kingdom Care, whose members are predominantly black. Other exceptions include the Golden Age Village in Baltimore, which is also predominantly black, and the Oakland Village hotel in California, which is predominantly Asian.

A 2016 University of California, Berkeley study published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology found that 96% of village members were white, 77% owned their own homes, 70% were women, and 70% were educated. academics. According to the Village to Village Network, most organizations are on the east and west coasts, with more than 64 villages under development.

“I notice I get a lot of communications from other villages and all the photos I see are all white,” said Madeline Franklin, who started STL Village, which serves black seniors in St. Louis. “And so the message that some people might take from that is that African Americans are not welcome or part of this.”

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

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

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

Dickson said her organization is working to expand its membership by recruiting from black churches, reaching out to more people of color and LGBTQ groups. “What we’re doing is getting people to look at what the demographics of your community are, who’s in your community, and what organizations, institutions, and leaders you need to get involved so that everyone the world is included,” she said.

Membership fees have also been an obstacle, Dickson said. Costs vary depending on the services provided by the organization. To Beacon Hill Village in Boston, where the movement began in 2002, members enjoy a long list of activities such as meditation classes, cafe conversations, cocktail parties and parties, travel and book clubs , concerts and outings to the theater and appointments. Annual membership is $675 — reduced to $110 for low-income seniors, according to the website.

At STL Village, full membership costs about as much and drops to $10 a month for low-income seniors, which Franklin says remains a barrier for many. The group now has a grant that offers free membership to those living in underserved communities. This enabled STL to increase membership of people of color by 20%, Franklin said, and expand events and programs even to nonmembers.

In DC, the city’s Department of Aging and Community Living has provided grants to subsidize fees since 2017 after it recognized there were no senior villages east of the Anacostia River, in the neighborhoods 7 and 8.

“To expand our outreach efforts and ensure equity and inclusion across all eight neighborhoods, we have partnered with Senior Villages to expand their footprint,” said Jessica Smith, Acting Department Director in an interview. “Through our partnership with Senior Villages, we are able to reach, support and serve more seniors, especially in our most underserved neighborhoods in the District.”

Each year, the Department of Aging and Community Living invests more than $847,000 in 13 villages for seniors, with each village receiving $50,000 for programming. About 40 villages were already in place when the agency called for applications five years ago. Kingdom Care was the only village to receive funding.

Kingdom Care operates out of the Greater Fellowship Full Gospel Baptist Church in Congress Heights, where Kathy Pointer, the village’s founding director, is a member. Realizing that a village could be a way to reach more seniors, Pointer, with the support of the church, quickly started a nonprofit and responded to the city’s request.

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

Today, Kingdom Care has 54 members and a dozen volunteers in a neighborhood that is over 90% black and where a quarter of households live below the poverty line. With the grant, Kingdom Care is helping to ensure that low-income seniors in Wards 7 and 8 can take full advantage of available resources.

“Right now we have a project going on where we’re trying to make sure that every older person who qualifies for home care help gets it. Anyone who needs meals delivered to their homes, they get it,” Pointer said.

Kingdom Care success stories spread, and established villages reached out to Pointer to find ways to bring more people of color into the movement.

“A lot of them came up and said, ‘Hey, we have to do something about disparities, about racial inequality. We have to do something because people of color also need access to villages,” Pointer said.

Research shows that compared to white seniors, black seniors have an increased risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, dementia, stroke and cancer, as well as a lower life expectancy. nearly a decade due to factors such as race. stress.

Belonging to a village can help alleviate the stress and loneliness of older people. According to a 2017 report from the University of California at Berkeley Center for Advanced Study, village members, especially in the three years after joining, feel they have more social support and are more confident. to be able to get the help they need to stay in their homes. aging services. Villages also significantly reduce isolation by providing opportunities for social and civic engagement.

That was the experience of Royal, who attended Kingdom Care’s Thanksgiving celebration on Friday with 25 other members. “It’s really changed my life,” she said, “because I can do a lot of things outside the house. I can see my main partners.

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

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