Column: Forging a new social movement by staying put

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Eileen Marx, 80, with Joyce Xu, 16, learning how to shop online. Photos/Lisa Jardine

Here’s the good news: thanks to vaccinations and antibiotics, health and safety laws in the workplace and a powerful anti-smoking campaign, we are living significantly longer lives.

Every day in the United States alone, 10,000 people turn 60. In the past 100 years, the percentage of the U.S. population that was older than 65 tripled from 4.3 percent to 13 percent. In New York, according to the 2000 census, 13 percent of our state’s population was over 65. It is estimated that, by 2030, it will be 20 percent.
So the big question becomes, where are all of our seniors going to live?

According to the New York State Department of Heath, there are currently 42 nursing homes in Westchester with a total of 6,565 beds. Math isn’t my strong suit, but I have a feeling this just isn’t going to cut it. After doing research for this article, though, the situation isn’t at all as dire as the numbers make it seem.

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Eleanor Holman and Zaid Khan, 16, learning about how to use the Amazon Kindle.

There is a grass roots effort that started in the Beacon Hill area of Boston in 1999 by a small group of friends who gathered together to talk about the future. They wanted to stay put in their own neighborhoods, yet they realized they would need support in the future to be able to do so. They wanted to empower themselves, and each other, instead of being managed by others. The result was a self-governing, non-profit 501(c)(3) supported and funded by membership fees, donations and volunteers. They called themselves The Village and they were determined to age in place, gracefully and on their own terms.
Almost 15 years later, the Beacon Hill Village is just one of many in the Village To Village Network, a national, peer-to-peer organization that helps establish villages just like Beacon Hill, whether they are in large metropolitan cities, rural towns or suburban settings.

These villages are custom tailored to the needs of the community and do everything and anything that their individual members want and need, from transportation to social and cultural programs, help with grocery shopping and pet care, referrals of vetted service providers, home safety checks, reduced rates on various services and healthcare providers as well as home care at a reduced rate.

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Bob Hiden, 80, Kai Kinsmen, 17, left, and Gabe Tugendstein, 15, work on Bob’s cell phone.

At Home on The Sound is one such village in Westchester County, located at 545 Tomp­kins Ave. in Mamaroneck. Established in 2010, At Home is a non-profit, aging-in-place organization that offers programs, transportation and support to residents 60 years and older in the Larchmont, Mamaroneck and Rye Neck communities so that they can remain in their own homes as they age, and continue to enjoy active and independent lives.

Jilana Van Meter is the communications and administration manager for At Home On The Sound.

“At Home on the Sound has been in existence for just over three years and already has close to 140 members. Our members are a vibrant, active and fascinating group of people; 24 of them are over 90 years old,” she said. “Our community volunteers, who provide the transportation to doctor’s appointments and errands as well as other types of assistance, are so dedicated and generous. They range from retirees to mothers of young children.”

Beyond the services they offer, At Home’s calendar of events is quite extensive and touches on all aspects of a full and healthy life, including Gentle Chair Yoga, Scrabble groups, Mahjong, current events discussions over breakfast and, just recently, a trip to the Neue Galerie in Manhattan, which was a huge success.

I caught up with a few members on a recent Saturday morning at the Post Road office of At Home On The Sound. They were hosting a technology workshop in which they match-up the needs of seniors with the expertise of teenagers. The technology experts were students from Mamaroneck High School, who worked with the seniors to help them with their cell phones, iPads, Kindles and any other piece of technology they brought with them.

Elaine Weingarten, executive director of At Home On The Sound, was a big proponent of the program.

“We think intergenerational programs are key to the aging-in-place, community-based pl­an. The seniors are also a resource for our youth. Our members are past college professors, ambassadors and well-known artists. The exchange of information is vital and goes both ways,” she said.

Robert Melnick, 86, and his wife Hyla, 82, attended the event.

“We love At Home On the Sound. We went to the museum tour and met some very nice people and we enjoy going to the speaker events. We joined two years ago,” Robert Melnick said.

Bob Hiden, 80, had questions about cell phones. He was working with Kai Kinsmen, 17, and Gabe Tugendstein, 15.

“Kai is my neighbor and he was organizing the event,” Tugendstein said. “It sounded like a good thing to do. I spend a lot of time with technology, so I knew I could help out with any questions they would have.”

Eleanor Holman, a resident of Larchmont for 53 years, brought in her Kindle, a gift from her family. Zaid Khan, 16, helped her learn how to use her new e-book reader.

“My fingers don’t move as well as they used to, but Zaid has been very good and patient with me,” Holman said.

Arthur Weisberg, 69, is a frequent At Home volunteer.

“I think At Home does good things for everyone. I constantly think of my mother and mother-in-law, both in their 90s, who will some day need assistance with simple things in life,” he said. “The answer as to why I do this is incredibly simple: I do it because I can do it and I enjoy doing it. Working with seniors keeps things in perspective for me.”
At Home On The Sound
545 Tompkins Ave., Mamaroneck
914-899-3150
www.athomeonthesound.org
www.facebook.com/AtHomeontheSound
Other villages that serve the Westchester Community:
Gramatan Village
Serving Bronxville:
914-337-1338
SPRYE
(“Staying Put in Rye and Environs”)
Serving Rye and Harrison:
914-481-5706

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing
restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

To contact Lisa, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand