AGING IN PLACE AT HOME HAVEN

Members of Home Haven retirement community
“Lots of congeniality.” Members of Home Haven mingle at last summer’s annual meeting, held in the Pardee Rose Garden in North Haven, Connecticut, on the east flank of East Rock.

The last decade has seen the emergence of a commonsense alternative to senior living communities and old age homes. Called “aging in place,” it involves staying in your own home, drawing on an inexpensive support network that helps find transportation, repair and maintenance people, and medical services that you and your family can’t quite handle alone. The country now has at least 175 such networks.

Louis Audette (24everit@concentric.net), known to many of us as “Gary,” is one of the movement’s pioneers. Here is his candid story of the aging-in-place startup he works with in New Haven, “Home Haven,” and of its dilemmas. For a glimpse of the member activities, which Louis says are its greatest benefit, check out the newsletter.

On February 9, 2006, a group of friends in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven, Connecticut, read an article in the New York Times about Beacon Hill Village, a project begun by neighbors in central Boston with the object of helping elderly citizens in their community stay in their homes instead of going to senior retirement facilities – in contemporary terminology, “age in place.” The idea was that it should be cheaper and more enjoyable to live as long as possible in the comfort of one’s own residence, while being able to “call the office” for reliable access to health agencies, household maintenance services, transportation and social activities.

Beacon Hill Village had been in development for almost five years and in actual operation for two before the Times article was written. When it officially opened its doors in 2004, the “village” had a board of directors, an executive director and close to 300 members. It was ready to publish a manual about its formation to show other like-minded pioneers how to go about forming “Villages” of their own.

Inspired by Beacon Hill, the East Rock group made a pilgrimage to Boston to meet its founders and principals. The core group studied how Beacon Hill had defined its underlying principles — and started a planning process that lasted nearly three years. East Rock friends raised about $160,000 from committed donors and prospective members. Compared to the (perceived) regimented environments of senior living communities, the attractions were appealing and vastly preferable — staying at home, where one could enjoy and participate in the environment of a familiar neighborhood with varying age groups, attend social and cultural activities, shop in familiar stores, stay under the care of familiar health and repair services, and entertain freely.

What was needed, the group felt, was a network of friends and volunteers, overseen by a formal organization that could coordinate requests for service, vet vendors and care providers, negotiate discounts and reliable sources of help, and be an information source for questions regarding services for the elderly from state, city, and private agencies.

By 2009, the charter founders attracted a prospective membership of about 45 households, with a fee schedule of $600 year for single memberships and $800 for couples (later, a “modest means” category was also developed). After nominating a board of directors, a search for an executive director was undertaken and an application for 501 C3 non-profit status was submitted to the Internal Revenue Service.

The sound of mutuality. Louis and his band,
CornBread, provided the music for the annual meeting.

East Rock Village, as it was then known, began business at the beginning of October, 2010. (Ed. note: Louis is on the board, the Activities Committee and the Governance Committee, and chairs the Household Services Committee. That committee finds and vets tradespeople like small jobs guys and handymen. It also oversees a general contractor that specializes in repair and fire and flood remediation, and that supplies licensed tradespeople like plumbers, electricians, and  roofers. There’s a similar committee charged with the same responsibility for health issues and caregivers.)

The first director formed committees to manage health, transportation, home maintenance, membership, volunteers and social activities. The committees established methods and policies and reported to the director, who served the board. Because the board was composed of members who were inexperienced in the workings of non-profit organizations, its president had the good sense to form a Governance Committee to define policy issues and establish protocols.

“The initial startup reserves were about to be exhausted”

 To her credit, members were put through a rigorous seminar on governance, learning the important distinctions between operations and board oversight in the non-profit context.

The first executive director resigned seven months into the first year of operation, in May, 2011. A search was undertaken for his replacement, this time with the benefit of a more detailed and realistic job description. A new director was found, only to face a severe financial crisis a month before the end of the fiscal year, when it was clear the initial startup reserves were about to be exhausted.

Many of New Haven’s established and influential citizens from the academic, professional and business communities live in East Rock and its adjoining area. In response to the budget crisis a founding member offered a $100,000 matching grant from a private foundation, with the understanding that the bulk of its proceeds be used for strategic planning and marketing, partly to clarify the mission of the organization and partly to develop mechanisms to remedy the fact that the East Rock catchment, by itself, was too small to be supported by membership alone. Spurred by the offer, the fledgling East Rock Village matched the grant in nine weeks, allowing it to complete its first year in solvency and to bank a “catalyst fund” for the vital planning and development tasks ahead. East Rock formed a strategic planning group and hired a development consultant.

East Rock Village’s progress, by the beginning of 2012, captured the attention of other parts of the city and neighboring towns. Once they learned how much it cost and how long it took to get East Rock established, however, the prospect of duplicating the effort all around the region held little appeal. Instead, a consensus developed for having East Rock Village expand to include other locations with their own subgroups. Since East Rock was a specific location in New Haven with a particular identity, the planners decided to make the name more general and inclusive.

Nearly six, occasionally fraught, months were spent working on the strategic plan and the name change, along with image design, website revisions and plans for bringing the expanded organizational concept to the membership. While this was going on, the director and the

“The operating budget will always need gifts and grants.”

original committees were hard at work vetting vendors, making sure health and home maintenance services were being supplied, arranging for rides, visiting the homebound, and offering a wide array of social activities including clubs, excursions, parties and periodic events for the full membership.

The new name, HOME HAVEN (Your Home. In Our Village), was presented at the first membership meeting of 2012, along with an array of revised and improved promotional materials. The idea of regional subgroups was described in detail and an updated website, www.homehavenvillages.org, was unveiled.

Home Haven became the primary administrative office from which services would be dispatched to clusters of otherwise autonomous “villages.” Each village would have its own name and identity, leadership structure, committee responsibilities and independent activities. The clusters agreed to a memorandum of understanding which provided, in return for autonomy, central administration and policy support, that they would channel all dues and financial proceeds to Home Haven itself.

Dealing with unbalanced use. It was apparent that efforts to recruit more members had become a top priority. East Rock’s original goal was 300 memberships. Home Haven now has about 160 families, and with its new structure the organization ought to be able to serve many more as demand increases. One thing is obvious– at the current dues schedule, seen by most to be at about the feasible limit, 300 dues paying families associated with diverse villages will not cover the costs of running a full service central office. Against a large number of supportive, often active, members who don’t use many of the basic services, there is a small, inevitably more needy group of the frail elderly who use the bulk of volunteer hours for rides, visits and assistance with special needs. The operating budget will always need to be supplemented with gifts and grants. East Rock Village and now Home Haven have been fortunate to have experienced financial and grant development personnel among their members. So far, grant applications and appeals for corporate sponsorship have been successful and productive.

When staying home is no longer feasible. Although not fully grasped at first, a looming issue for most people is the time when staying at home is simply not feasible. While aging in place offers real economic and social advantages, moving to a facility better equipped to manage the special needs of the elderly often becomes the best choice. Hence, a Home Haven task force has visited and reported on Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs) and Continuing Care Residential Communities (CCRCs) in the south central Connecticut region. Home Haven now has a detailed report on the respective amenities, costs and choices surrounding the selection of these types of facilities. The task force has learned and promulgated the fact that if members wait too long to enroll in managed care facilities they may not be eligible and have to go straight to nursing homes with skilled care and very high expenses.

The State of Connecticut and the federal government are working to come to grips with the impending reality of an entire population of aging adults who are arriving at retirement age without adequate financial preparation. The concept of helping the elderly “age in place” at

“Members meet neighbors they had never known”

home offers significant economic and health management benefits. Home Haven’s President has joined the state’s study group on aging to help foster the village concept and advise planners, legislators and regulators about the advantages of the movement.

When East Rock Village opened in 2010, eleven variants of the Beacon Hill model were in early stages of operation across the country. Now there are about 175, each with its peculiar local flavor and design, but all basically working towards the goal of helping older members to age in place. A coordinating body, the Village to Village Network, www.vtvnetwork.org, provides an ongoing forum for discussions about all aspects of the program.

How can the “Not Quite Readies” be enticed to join? The original village model offered a variety of services very much along the lines of what someone in a senior residential setting could get by “calling downstairs to the desk”. Indeed, the


Coordinating three “villages.” Bitsie Clark,
the executive director, at the buffet

evolving East Rock Village/Home Haven office has, over the course of its first two years, materially refined and mastered the provision of basic services and sponsorship of a large array of social activities. But what has turned out to be the main appeal requires membership to become fully apparent.

Rather than health assistance or household repairs and car rides, which a significant number of members don’t really need because they’re healthy, mobile and have preferred repair people of their own, people are deriving important satisfaction from participation through volunteering and meeting neighbors they’d never known, despite living in the same community. People are learning that within Home Haven’s sharing environment they can easily ask for, and get, help or advice. For example, seminars addressing planning for the end of life have transcended the normal reluctance of individuals to consider such issues by themselves. The meetings are well attended and successful because of the comfort afforded by sharing concerns in a circle of like-minded and committed acquaintances.

Now that the name change and strategic planning have jelled, membership is growing and at least two more towns are considering becoming “villages” under the umbrella of Home Haven. Volunteer recruitment has become more efficient, along with the development of a standardized volunteer handbook that explains duties and responsibilities in the various service areas. An ongoing issue, assured communications with the membership, will be solved in time as more computer savvy people join and the roughly 30 percent of members who are older and computer averse gain skills or move on. The cost of mailing newsletters and announcements to members who don’t have or use computers should go down. While still in deficit, the balance sheet is stable and steadily improving, and Home Haven has become a familiar and respected entity in the region.

I invite classmates to comment here, and/or send me their reactions, questions and suggestions.
Louis Audette 24everit@concentric.net

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1 comment to AGING IN PLACE AT HOME HAVEN

  • Sam Knoll

    My name is Sam Knoll, and I”m a member of the Yale Class of 1962. I applaud Louis/Gary Audette and the Home Haven organization for the work they’ve done and what the have accomplished.

    I belong to a similar organization in northern Michigan, named Share Care of Leelanau, located in Leelanau County of northern (but lower peninsula) Michigan. I belong to ShareCare because I live in Leelanau County four months of the year. During the other 8 months I live in Durham, NC, and I don’t know of any similar organization in that area … but would like to find one. Here is a link to ShareCare’s website: http://sharecareleelanau.org/. I would be happy to share with interested parties my very positive observations on ShareCare of Leelanau.

    I can also say that the reason I was drawn to ShareCare is that I had to give up driving several years ago due to a major eyesight problem. When I’m in Durham, I can get around pretty well to almost everything I need by walking. But here in rural, northern Michigan, walking isn’t such a viable option. Friends and family are a big help, but ShareCare really fills in the gaps. It is a wonderful organization.

    Sam

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