In May of 2005, Jude and I hosted a gathering at Summer Hill Farm convened by Second Journey with an extraordinary and diverse group of people. We set ourselves the task of imagining new models for the second half of life and powerful ideas emerged.
One of those ideas was “Aging in Community” — a concept, a vision, a new way of seeing things that proved powerful enough to inspire my good friend Janice Blanchard to focus much of her energies over the next seven years on teasing out its potential. Janice’s efforts culminated in the release last month of Aging in Community, a superb volume of 23 thought-provoking essays by visionary architects and planners, academics and social scientists, social entrepreneurs and elder pioneers helping forge new models for creating community in later life. I am pleased to have co-authored with Janice the lead essay in the book, Moving Beyond Place: Aging in Community. Here is a link where you will find more information: www.SecondJourney.org/AIC.htm.
We’ve always known most Americans would prefer to “age in place” rather than being forced into an institutional long term care. “Aging-in-place” has even become a cottage industry of sorts, advocated by many well-intentioned people, including some in our audience.
The reality is that aging is a team sport, and focusing our efforts on services and strategies to keep elders living “independently” creates a hollow victory at best. Kristin Bodiford captured the essence of the problem in a recent blog post:
Often the home we have lived in for many years and to which many fond memories and deep relationships attach poses significant physical, financial, or emotional challenges and makes connection with family, friends, neighbors, and the community difficult or impossible.
Aging in community presents a viable and appealing third option to institutional long-term care or “aging-in-place.” Aging in community fosters and draws on reservoirs of social capital. In comparison, institutional long-term care and trying to “age-in-place” rely heavily on financial capital and expensive professional services, while offering older people little or no opportunity to create or deploy reserves of social capital. As Kristin points out, ”the concept encourages a proactive strategy to create supportive neighborhoods and networks. Thus, the well-being and quality of life for elders at home becomes a measure of the success of the community.
Aging in community advances the concept of being “a darn good neighbor” — and, as a result, promotes social capital, a sense of trust and mutual interconnectedness that is enhanced over time through positive interactions and collaboration in shared interests.
The gathering at our Summer Hill Farm five years ago was one of a series of Visioning Councils Second Journey conducted at venues across the country. It was a powerful process which sparked conversations that were truly transformative. I’m pleased to announce that now, five years later, Second Journey is reviving and updating this initiative with a gathering that will be held April 11-14 in Chapel Hill, NC. You will find more information about it here: www.SecondJourney.org/VC.htm.
I heartily recommend this program. Please pass this information on to your friends and colleagues.