Yard work, child care and assistance after surgery are just a small sampling of the tasks Dalton Ranch neighbors will be doing for each other through a new nonprofit called the North Animas Village.
The new village is meant to keep seniors in all seven neighborhoods of Dalton Ranch in their own homes longer. It is founded on a successful nonprofit model started 17 years ago in Boston by seniors who wanted to maintain their independence by taking care of each other, said North Animas Village Board President Peggy Winkworth. Since the Boston village was started, hundreds of other villages have been founded internationally, according to the Village to Village Network, which helps start and sustain villages.
Since Dalton Ranch residents started organizing their new village in mid-2017, they have heard overwhelmingly positive feedback, Winkworth said.
Some neighbors have said: “Can you do it tomorrow? I need you now,” said Sandy Ratchford, the nonprofit’s board secretary.
The need for greater connection between seniors and their communities is rising as the local population ages. The fastest-growing demographic in Durango is expected to be those over 80, a group expected to expand by 237 percent, or 3,900 residents, by 2035, according to the Durango Housing Plan.
Isolation can become problematic for seniors who live out of town and away from public transportation and other city services because it leads to depression, poor nutrition, less physical exercise and cognitive decline, said Sheila Casey, director of La Plata County Senior Services.
“People are becoming aware of it, and more and more neighbors are starting to knock on doors,” she said.
However, options for senior care in La Plata County are limited and some residents end up moving out of the area to be near family members who can care for them, Ratchford said.
After holding neighborhood meetings and conducting surveys, the village in Dalton Ranch plans to serve residents of all ages, Winkworth said. Through the new village, seniors could provide services such as child care for families or help with transportation, and younger adults and children can help seniors with tasks such as yard work. All these activities will foster intergenerational relationships, she said. The services could also prevent older adults from injuring themselves.
“We sure would like young men changing light bulbs in our 10-foot ceilings,” Ratchford said.
The new villages won’t replace existing services, such as Meals on Wheels, but it will work to supplement them and organize social activities that can prevent seniors from isolation. The new village has already organized a ski meet-up and members plan an event to share soup recipes and a Wine Under the Willows gathering in the summer, board members said.
Members of the village would also like to negotiate bulk purchases with carpet cleaners and painters, Ratchford said.
Winkworth learned about the senior village model while reading “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” with her Dalton Ranch book club. Winkworth and other book members are still involved with the village, which has grown to include residents from all seven neighborhoods in Dalton Ranch.
Residents expect to formally launch the nonprofit in May, Winkworth said. About 100 people have expressed interest in joining the new nonprofit, and if everyone in Dalton Ranch joined, it could serve about 442 households, although that is unlikely.
The village model appeals to the North Animas Village’s Vice President Marcie Bray because she can help others in addition to receiving help, she said.
“You are not imposing on your family or your neighbors,” she said.
For seniors, staying in their own homes is a far more affordable housing option than moving into a long-term care facility.
The average monthly cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home was $7,892 last year in Colorado, according to GenWorth Financial, a large insurance company. Assisted-living housing averages about $4,000 per month, according to GenWorth.
North Animas Village expects to charge an annual membership fee of less than $300 to cover the insurance, software, membership in the Village to Village Network, among other costs, Winkworth said.
North Animas Village is the first nonprofit of its kind in La Plata County, however, residents in other neighborhoods, such as Edgemont and Waterfall Village, have expressed interest in starting similar villages.
“Once we launch, we would happily help other neighborhoods launch their own,” Winkworth said.
For more information, email Winkworth at email@example.com.