How to Start a Village

In the "Your Turn To Care" story about Wise Connections, we see how seniors in communities are working together through a program of membership-based retirement groups known as the Village Movement. Villages are a national movement that began in Beacon Hill, MA in 2002. Each village is not a physical place but rather a grass roots, neighbor-to-neighbor "virtual network" created to provide older adults with lifestyle choices that include continuing to live in their own homes, or aging in a community. Today, about 70 of these villages exist in the United States, with hundreds in the development phase, according to Village to Village Network (VtV), an organization that connects villages and helps guide people who want to start them, now celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The Village to Village Network provides an interactive Village-to-Village locator map to search by zip code to see if there's a village near you:

And if there isn't, you can even start one yourself. Your Turn To Care spoke to Judy Willett, new National Director of the Village to Village Network. "Villages are grassroots organizations," says Willett, who was Executive Director of the Beacon Hill Village for 10 years prior to taking the helm at the national organization. "When you jump in," she says, "Be ready for some hard work, with a very rewarding outcome."

Tips for Starting a Village

1 - Recruit your friends. It's a very grassroots movement, and no one person can do it alone. So, seek out your kindred spirits and ask these questions:

  • What is actually needed in the community?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What do they think their neighbors who are aging would need?
  • What are you all going to need as you get older?

2 - Do some research. One good resource is the Village to Village Network website that describes the model itself. There are actually several different models of villages that exist. And The Village to Village Network helps emerging villages get in touch with other villages. Beacon Hill Village also sells a Founders Manual that has helped hundreds of people and organizations get started.

3 - Look towards your own community. And take note of what's needed. One of the hallmarks of villages is that they do not duplicate services that already exist.

4 - Get organized. Take that initial group of people and finding out what their skills are. Look for people who are experts in :

  • Obtaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit status
  • Fundraising
  • Marketing
  • Business strategy

5 - Don't try to go it alone. If you have the idea, find other people in your community who are equally passionate about it, and start building your group of founders--people who share your excitement and your enthusiasm and want to help build the village into a sustainable and valuable organization.

Still interested in starting a village? Check out these resources:

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