The Anderson Valley Village was founded following a book group reading of “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” by Atul Gawande. A frank assessment of aging wisely, the book provided inspiration for one of Mendocino County’s newest and most unique nonprofit organizations. “We were so inspired by the book we encouraged others to read it,” says Lauren Keating, Village board member. With more than 250 Villages nationwide, the group of Anderson Valley residents began meeting monthly several years ago to discuss and problem-solve the complexities of aging, particularly in a rural setting. The Village’s seed concept was to create an organization that helps people age in place.
“We formed a group to discuss the book, which we called, ‘Preparation for the Rest of Our Lives,’” says Keating. “We brainstormed topics, modeling ourselves after the Village concept, which emphasizes the benefits of staying connected and learning together, as a group.”
“We received a planning grant from the Community Foundation and used the funds to get organized. We wrote by-laws, became a 501(c)(3), wrote a member handbook and even during Covid, continued meeting via Zoom or socially distanced, outdoors,” said Phillip Thomas. The start-up grant from the Community Foundation helped to facilitate the transition into a nonprofit organization. In 2019, the all-volunteer group hired Anica Williams to be the Village’s paid coordinator, and accepted membership dues. Today, there are 63 paying members, whose dues provide the income to pay William’s salary and ancillary costs.
“Our group was clear that we didn’t want to fundraise to exist. We’re thrilled we have enough membership, alongside the Community Foundation’s support, to continue expanding,” says Keating.
“Anica curates two lists- the first consisting of volunteer caregivers, drivers and errand runners, and the second a list of people for hire- folks who do yard work, house cleaning and other tasks. Everyone on the lists is vetted by our Board,” says Keating. “When you age, and something on your property breaks down, the tendency is to let your world fall apart. Anica has a list of folks like plumbers who can help with those issues,” says Board President Gwyn Leeman.
“Volunteers offer rides to medical appointments, help with household tasks, even decluttering. We offer monthly meetings on topics from Medicare and end-of-life options to green burials. We have book clubs, walking groups, tech support from Anderson Valley High School students, discussion groups, outings and lectures on mental and physical health,” says Thomas.
Though the group does not offer medical referrals or the provision of direct services, they partner with the Anderson Valley Senior Center, the Anderson Valley Elder Home and the local Community Garden. “We sponsored a fledging Anderson Valley Council of Elders to support the 60-plus population,” Thomas continues.
“Our volunteer bank of helpers is growing, as is our referral list of ‘for hire’ paid providers,” Leeman notes. “We’re always soliciting volunteers and professional people. Currently, there are few requests that go unfulfilled.”
Keating emphasizes the Village is not focused on death.
“We’re investigating what we’re going to go through with aging, and how to live the most vibrant life we can- making these years as full as possible. Some folks say, ‘I don’t need this yet,’ because they’re currently independent. We encourage connecting with our community now by joining the group.”
The passing of Keating’s parents inspired her to research community models for aging.
“After Mom died, my dad was lonely. His world got smaller. I want to continue meeting people and expanding social connections, so I have a strong support system when it’s needed.”
Village members investigate topics that intrigue them.
“One member was a caregiver for her spouse. She’s organizing a caregiving symposium. We had a ‘Getting Your Affairs in Order’ four-session course which covered wills and Advance Directives. We created a private grief group for several Village members who met members with a therapeutic background.”
With the “Silver Tsunami” of aging Boomers crashing into communities nationwide, Leeman is grateful her community is taking a proactive approach.
“We all want to stay in our homes, our communities and combat isolation. There are many Village models. Many are virtual, but some have housing. Each community designs what works for them.”
With a dearth of gerontologists and senior services in rural areas, the Village concept helps identify available resources and fosters an engaged senior community.
“Almost everything we do is social and informational. Non-members are welcome to our meetings. Members may receive our volunteer pool list,” says Leeman.
“Our next goal is remaining fiscally sound while expanding services to elders who can’t afford membership fees,” notes Thomas. “The seed money from the Community Foundation helped launch us and ensure our success, resulting in a greater sense of community and positive changes for Anderson Valley elders,” Thomas concludes.
About Anderson Valley Village
PO Box 576, Boonville, CA 95415
Village Coordinator: Anica Williams
Staff: 1 paid staff member
Volunteering: AVV is seeking more volunteers. One of the strengths of the Village movement is how it appreciates and organizes its volunteer network. The act of volunteering is simultaneously beneficial to the recipient, the volunteer, and the fabric of our community.
Membership: The primary purpose of AVV is to enhance the quality of life for adults 50 years and older, with a variety of programs to make life easier and more interesting including volunteer help, services for hire, special events, and contributing to the fabric of our community. Visit the website to become a member.
To donate (tax-deductible): Donate online, or send a check, payable to AVV, PO Box 576, Boonville, CA 95415.
(Anderson Valley Village (AVV) is a nonprofit organization empowering older adults to remain active, interconnected, and independent in the place they call home. We ease some of the challenges of aging by organizing services such as running errands and minor home repairs. We enhance the quality of life in our community by facilitating friendships, working with other local groups, and encouraging our Valley’s long tradition of multi-generational activities.)