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Our Very Own Mutual Aid Society

An interview with The Anderson Valley Village’s Lauren Keating & Stephanie Gold:

AVA: Why do we need a village when we live in villages from Yorkville to Navarro?

Lauren: We’re using the term “village” because there is a nation-wide Village movement, and we’re adapting that concept to our own community. As for why we need a village when we live in such a great place, it's still easy to feel isolated. We like our independence and will continue to like our independence. But not everybody who wants to be totally independent at 30 or 40 can continue to be completely self-sufficient when they get to be 60 or 70 and realize that getting support from others can be a good thing.

Stephanie: We have people setting up their own support networks. Maybe they’re going to have a knee replacement, so they call their organizer friend and that friend calls other friends who will bring them to the doctor and so forth. So you have a support network being reinvented, over and over again, in small pockets of our local population. But if you have one-stop shopping for support it would all be set up so when you need help, there would be one person to organize it all from the volunteer support base.

Lauren: We are really good at the big things that happen here, such as if someone's house burns down or someone falls out of a tree. When people are terminally ill their friends pull together. We are good at that. We are not as good when the situation requires ongoing help over a longer period of time or when the individual is isolated and doesn’t have an extensive support network. Also, people tend to be private and they don't want to ask for help, and they don't know who to ask for help if they need it. It's also hard on caregivers. I’ve watched people just not get help. Aging is long-term. I was talking to my father recently and he has a pretty strong support system because he grew up in the place he's still living, but almost everyone he knows has passed on. My sisters are around so there is support for him. What I hope will happen in the AV Village is that we will continue to meet new people and bring them into our circle of friends, into our 60s and 70s and 80s. My hope is that people will be brought together in the Village, and it won't be quite as lonely to be 85 because you’ll have met people in the last five years and you will go on to meet more people who can help as the years pass.

AVA: So the Anderson Valley Village will connect people who are otherwise alone?

Stephanie: Yes, and there will be assistance for little things that are not crises, too. How do I send a photo to a friend on my phone, or a text message? Some high school students have volunteered to be a technical crew to help people with their tech questions. There are many levels of volunteer services that bring people together while making the daily experience of life a little smoother. Lots of things can be an obstacle in a day when you get older. When that obstacle comes, whether it's leaves in your gutter or a light bulb that is too high to change, those kinds of things can cause people to leave their long-time home sooner than they would like to. They’d prefer to be here but there are those things that can be rough on your own.

AVA: Some people may think they have an informal help network but it might not be available when they need it.

Lauren: Yes, and some people are resistant to asking for help as well. You can do it in big situations when you break your leg or something disastrous. But trouble changing a light bulb? You don’t want to bother someone. We need to create a culture where it's okay to ask someone. You’ve been contributing and when you need someone, help will be there. So it's okay to ask for help, that's the culture we would like to create. Many of the people who are creating the Village don't have family here and are looking at setting this in place for their own lives. They may have had a family here in the past but kids tend to move.

AVA: I know people who are stuck away in the hills, by choice, but they are definitely alone because they want to be, but the Anderson Valley Village, as they age in place, and want to remain in place, would be a godsend to them so they can live out their lives where they feel most comfortable.

Lauren: Most villages occur in a small geographic area. In cities, the villages may be confined to finite neighborhoods. We recognize it might be a challenge to cover the whole valley, but that’s our intention. Realistically, the farther out you live, the more remote you might be from some services. We plan to use neighborhood clusters so people on Deer Meadow, for instance, who want to be a part of this, can be supported by other people up there. Some people have specified that they want to volunteer mostly in their neighborhood, like the Navarro area or Yorkville.

Stephanie: If, for instance, you need medication from Ukiah, a Village member can pick it up for you. It's not that difficult to swing by and drop it off, and that can be a big help for someone.

Lauren: We may have to have a staging area where stuff can be dropped off and taken by someone else to the patient. It depends on how much people are willing to volunteer to do. We also hope to be developing a list of people who will be paid providers and we would be the gathering point for information to see who's available for what days. But we want to be clear that we are not vetting anyone or hiring them. We will just give you names and you hire them and you have to be careful about that. We would be the link between local people who are helping and members who want service providers.

AVA: So you will have a roster of people who are willing to do different things under certain conditions. There are several women who do in-home care, right?

Stephanie: A bunch of local people just took a course in the AV adult school to prepare them to give in-home care. That will become more and more of a need. They are not fully certified service providers--if you need a professional, you can go with that. But if you need someone to help around the house and be with you if there's an emergency then you can have a more affordable option than a fully certified in-home person. We are working on developing a resource list of all types of people and services, but it’s not all set up yet.

AVA: Do you expect to be calling up prospective members to recruit them?

Stephanie: We expect to visit the Unity Club and ICW and such and we've talked to people who work on the ambulance who could be good emissaries for us.

Lauren: The Health Center knows about us and I think they will steer people our way. I don't expect to do cold calls on people. We are letting people come to us.

AVA: I happen to know a few people who should sign up.

Lauren: We all do. We also hope to be in touch with the children of people who might need assistance. Of course, that can be a problem at times. The children might want their relative to be safe elsewhere, but the elder may want to stay here. An older person can assure their children that this local support system is in place and that they are okay to stay here and the children don't have to move them. People sometimes get picked up and moved as they get old to a place they are uncomfortable in. If the children know their parents are safe and have a support system and understand the level of safety and that someone can be checking in every day, the children would feel that their parents or relatives are okay. But it's not the same as being in an assisted living place. So far the people coming to our meetings are looking at the future and don't have an immediate need. A few people are close to needing help and they laugh about being close to that but they are not asking for services yet. I think that we'll probably start slow. We may not get people right away who have serious needs. 

Stephanie: We have talked about how we can work with the Senior Center and support each other. We would like to be complementary. We had a social gathering with the two Boards and we want to continue that. We needed to launch and establish ourselves and then meet with the Senior Center and see how best we can support each other without duplication.

Lauren: We don’t want to tell them what they should do. What we are trying to do is much broader than what the Senior Center does. Our coordinator, Anica Williams, happens to be the sister-in-law Renee Wyant, who is now the director of the Senior Center. I think they will work well together. We’ve done some outreach and some people may still wonder, Why aren't you just part of the Senior Center? We’re just helping in a different way and we really hope to work with them.

AVA: Will your coordinator have an office?

Lauren: Not yet. If you are offering let us know. Maybe later. We don't have much money at this point. Donated space would be appreciated.

Stephanie: The fees go for the coordinator, a part-time coordinator who can respond to questions and needs of the members. She will be the contact person. She’ll have the information about the volunteers and the services. She can do that from anywhere, like her home. We have hired Anica Williams, who lives out on Greenwood Road. She's very warm and lively and well-organized and great to have on board. We’re working on a website, too. The template was developed by Helpful Villages, for Villages across the country who doing the same sort of thing. Our brochure answers FAQs and provides the contact info, and the brochure is also available at Lauren’s and at the Health Center. 

Lauren: The baby boomer generation is reaching old age and we are realizing that we want to do this the way we want to do it.

Stephanie: It's another option as you age, not an option for aging. The only option to that is not aging. (Laughs) You’d like to make different options available besides traditional extended family homes and the nursing homes that were the options available for my parents.

Lauren: Yes, we also hope to benefit the whole valley. For instance, we want to encourage people to develop emergency response plans because the people who tend to die in these disasters are older people living alone. They may not have gotten the emergency notices or couldn't get out by themselves. We started that at our March Sunday gathering with Sheriff Allman and Boonville Fire Chief, Andres Avila. We will see what other neighborhoods are doing and maybe come up with a template for our neighborhoods. We’ve had a pretty good turnout for these meetings. We’ve had a lot of people interested in volunteering. I have applications available at my restaurant as well as the health center. There is a short volunteer training having to do with the responsibility of being in someone’s home. There’s driving requirements that include a clean record and insurance, if you plan on driving people. That’s not required if you’re just doing errands. Volunteers can determine their time and hours and what jobs they’d like to take on. Anyone can be a volunteer. We hope to attract all ages because different generations working with each other is always good.

Stephanie: Some volunteers have said they would be happy to be a companion to someone on a doctor's visit. They could help someone with what the doctor says and write it down and organize it. That could be very helpful. It will be interesting to see what people have to offer as volunteers. And then to see what people ask for.

AVA: Do you have any idea about how many people you’re talking about in the Valley?

Stephanie: According to the clinic, about 20% of their clients are 65 or older so that gives a little bit of the sense of the age demographic of the valley.

AVA: I would have guessed higher. 

Stephanie: The AV Village is for people who are 50 or older, so that’s a larger group. There is a core group that has been interested and coming to meetings, but word is getting out and spreading. Sometimes it’s just a friend suggesting something to another friend about joining and recommending it to their friends. Word of mouth. 

AVA: Spanish language outreach?

Lauren: Maybe at some point. Hispanics tend to have close families. But certainly our brochure should be translated into Spanish. We’ve had plenty to do to get things set up so far. The Board meets monthly and we still have a lot to work on. 

Stephanie: So far we have a volunteer handbook, a membership handbook, a membership application, a volunteer application and a paid service provider application. Lots of paperwork creation!

Lauren: The Village is not just for people in need of services right now, it's about creating a community that is somewhat about services, but is also about keeping people connected and independent as we age. 

Stephanie: We have found that a lot of the members also want to be volunteers and sign up for both. It's better to help than to need help, they say. It works both ways. There's a healthy balance.

The Anderson Valley Village
PO Box 576, Boonville, 707 684-9829

One Comment

  1. Lisa Brinkmann March 21, 2019

    Congratulations on Anderson Valley Village. I will definitely spread the word! I have a place that I rent out in Philo and am the ED of Marin Villages. It’s amazing the simple things that can make a huge difference in the quality of one’s life. …and knowing someone is there to lend a hand.

    Good luck!

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