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HomeTakes a village

It Takes a Village
by Marlene Bagdikian Ashby Village member
"As the longevity revolution unfolds, senior villages will become one of the distinctive social inventions of our time…. These virtual villages offer an affordable way for seniors to find the practical support, companionship, and cultural vitality they need while remaining in their own homes and neighborhoods."
— Theodore Roszak, The Making of an Elder Culture, and founding member of Ashby Village

Seniors in the East Bay who want to remain in their own homes and communities when life grows more difficult and complicated at last have a way to make that possible. They can join Ashby Village, a virtual village that offers members an amazing array of services.

In 2006, The New York Times published an article about Beacon Hill Village in Boston, the first such community dedicated to helping residents in the area age in place and not in remote institutions. Since then, the concept has become a movement! Over 150 Villages are now operating or being formed throughout the country, and the number is growing.

The New York Times article sparked a conversation among Berkeley neighbors who wanted their own aging to be different from that of their parents’ generation. They wanted to plan before a crisis erupted, wanted to help friends and neighbors, but most of all, they wanted to be in charge of their later years and have their kids to know their wishes.

And thus in 2010, Ashby village was launched, a virtual community that includes residents of Berkeley, Albany, Kensington, El Cerrito, and the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland. It gives village members independence and it relieves family members of worry and obligation.

Within one short year, AV now has 161 members and is growing weekly. It has trained 54 volunteers, responded to 152 requests and made 45 referrals to service providers. It is supported by membership dues and volunteering skills and, most significant perhaps, by members who have both the time and the wish to help friends and neighbors.

How does it work? AV has only one full-time employee, executive director Andy Gaines, who delegates and supervises a myriad of committees and activities. There are home-based volunteer services as far-ranging as transportation to a doctor or grocery shopping, a house visit to change a lightbulb or hang a picture, or a supportive presence at a time when one does not want to be by oneself. One member called AV when she found herself alone as her husband was facing unexpected and potentially serious surgery. Two volunteers waited with her, ready to stay the night if need be. The surgery was successful, but she writes that “we had never met before; we have not seen each other since … but I will be grateful to them forever.”

Some services are not performed by volunteers. AV now has 101 service providers who have been fully approved. These one-call vetted concierge referrals can include gardeners, painters, attorneys, accountants, and personal care attendants. After a single call to AV, for example, a member with a broken backdoor lock had it fixed by an experienced carpenter for the reasonable fee of $50 and the door could be locked that evening.

Access to support and services are key elements but creating community within the Village is the secret to success. Members meet at potluck dinners, poetry readings, luncheon outings and holiday parties and educational events have focused on problem memory issues or how to ensure an ethical will. It is membership needs and interests that determine cultural, social, and educational events and gatherings.

Ashby Village invites anyone living in its service area to Come and Join. For more information about Ashby Village, click on, call 510- 204-9200, or email