COMMENTARY: An invitation to participate and serve in Vashon Villages

Vashon Villages is not a place, but rather, a plan for growing older, at home, and with a little help from your neighbors.

Earlier this new year, Senior Center executive director Catherine Swearingen wrote in these pages to thank the Vashon-Maury Island community for its support in 2021 and to call attention to our varied programs.

And what a year it was, especially as a follow-up to 2020! Through it all, we pressed on with our mission to enrich the lives of older adults.

As we head further into 2022, I’ll both echo Catherine’s “we need you” message and reframe it, too: you are needed.

Where are you needed? You are needed at the Senior Center itself, in the charming brick building on Bank Road that buzzes with daily activities. You are needed beyond those walls, too.

And the Vashon Villages program might be just the place —or rather, nonplace — for you. “Nonplace’ is an apt word because Vashon Villages is not a location. It is instead a plan for growing older, at home, and with a little help from your neighbors.

Vashon Villages aligns with the national (and international) nonprofit Village movement that supports older adults aging in place, in community. There are more than 280 Villages in the United States alone. Each is unique, shaped by its members — their needs, life experiences, and individual expertise — and relies on community-based support by a cadre of caring neighbors.

You might agree that existing support systems for older adults leave a gap in care, a gap that we hope will be narrowed by the Vashon Villages. Through practical, affordable, community-based support, along with opportunities for social interaction, older adults may continue to live independently at home, with a little help from their neighbors.

How are you needed? You are needed in two Village-shaping roles — to participate and serve — as members and as volunteers.

Participate as a member and enjoy Village social events, trips off-island, walking groups, friendly check-ins. Members will decide what works best for their Village — including things we haven’t even thought of.

Volunteer and serve through everyday gestures — that little bit of help. For example, you might return a member’s library book, have recurring phone chats, change a lightbulb, walk a favorite path — or stake out a new one together.

Your current skill or talent? It is needed! That topic or task you kind of, sort of used to be good at? Maybe haven’t done in a while? Bring that along, cobwebs and all. You are needed, perhaps as both a member and a volunteer — if that suits your life right now, of course.

You don’t need me to tell you that there’s a lot of social capital on Vashon and Maury: people are willing to help each other. I constantly marvel at the uncanny timing of the (often unsolicited) thoughtfulness and generosity that finds its way to The Senior Center. This support would be beautiful at any time, and it might be doubly wonderous considering how it seems to keep out-persisting this very persistent pandemic.

The Vashon Villages program presents an opportunity both to augment this Vashon spirit and to perpetuate it as time passes. Your involvement in the pilot program that is and will be the Vashon Villages is needed so that the program can take root, grow, and thrive in neighborhoods across Vashon and Maury for years to come.

Speaking of things to come: a proclamation, sponsored by Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch, will designate Feb. 15 as National Village Day, and recognize the 20th anniversary of the first intentional aging-in-place village in the modern Village movement, Beacon Hill Village, in Boston. In what we see as a bit of hopeful symmetry, our Vashon Villages program launches that same day. Please join us at the Senior Center for an outdoor ribbon-cutting featuring brief remarks and locally made treats.

Here are the details: the Vashon Villages Program Launch will take place at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15, at The Senior Center. Funding for this program is provided by the King County Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy.

There’s a lot to celebrate, including the possibilities that lie ahead. Whether or not it’s possible for you to be with us at the Senior Center on Feb. 15, please remember that you are needed. Let’s grow older together.

Evy Horton is the Senior Center’s Vashon Villages program manager. One of only two Americans with a Master of Science in Physical Activity for Health, Evy advocates for healthier futures for all. She is an anti-ageism activist.