HomeHaven is a private not-for-profit corporation founded to provide its members with the opportunities, services, and confidence they need to remain active participants in the life of the community, living their lives to the fullest as they grow older in the comfort of their own homes.
HomeHaven is a grass-roots non-profit organization created by vibrant and energetic people who wanted to remain in their own homes and communities and preserve their independence as they got older. They wanted to build a sense of community and social connection, to feel secure about services and service providers they paid for, to use their own talents to help one another, and to continue to grow and thrive in their own communities.
Inspired by Beacon HIll Village in Boston, HomeHaven is part of a national movement of villages -- about 100 of them across the country and another 120 in development. The Village-to-Village network shares information and advice on the web (www.vtvnetwork.org), and hosts annual national conferences. The villages are as different from one another as the communities that they support. They are community-supported and community-building organizations of people committed to working together for their own common good.
HomeHaven arose from the remarkable success of East Rock Village (ERV) in New Haven, which formally launched operations in the fall of 2010 with members from East Rock and several contiguous neighborhoods. Word spread informally and the idea caught fire.
Immediately East Rock Village got requests from people who did not live in the area. The organization extended their borders. It considered helping other neighborhoods develop their own villages, but some of them said, “It doesn’t make sense for us to have to go through four years of struggle and expense. Can’t you just extend your services to us?” And that made sense.
By the beginning of 2012, ERV had members from Hamden, North Haven, Westville, downtown New Haven, Wooster Square, West Haven, Orange, Woodbridge and Bethany. Some of those neighborhoods began to develop their own leadership and their own programs, while still being served by the ERV infrastructure. They began to look like villages themselves and the name, East Rock Village, did not seem to apply to them.
After an intensive planning process, the ERV board decided to change its structure from a neighborhood organization with increasingly porous borders to an umbrella organization that shelters and serves a number of neighborhood villages, villages-in-formation, and unaffiliated members who have not yet begun to coalesce into villages. Everyone has full access to the infrastructure – staff, office, insurance, legal structure, paid and volunteer service providers, newsletter, and common social, educational, and wellness programs – but the neighborhoods are free to develop their own personalities as they become full-fledged villages under the larger umbrella. That new organization is HomeHaven, Inc.
We believe that HomeHaven will bridge the competing goals of developing community, neighborliness, intimacy, and providing a broader organization that is efficient, accountable, and keeps costs low.
Today we have about 216 members in 152 households and we are building daily an increasingly sophisticated body of knowledge about what it means to support a community of seniors leading interesting and fulfilling lives. We have a growing array of programs and services, a growing group of volunteers and participants, and growing sense of excitement and interest in the greater community. Our members know that they need to make only one phone call to draw on all those resources and to enlarge the web of their connections.
HomeHaven has the following needs:
• Volunteers to drive, visit members, provide office support and other help with projects and events
• Expertise in the development of an effective and affordable marketing plan to attract a diversity of members. from different ethnic.economic and age groups
• Funds to support the general operation of the organization to keep fees affordable
• Increase the diversity of funding sources to include corporate sponsorship, fund raising events, grants, planned giving.
I moved to New Haven in 1956. The first of what we now know as Baby Boomers were turning 10 years old. My first job was with the New Haven Council of Girl Scouts. It involved building the organization to meet the growing demand of this new population and to provide opportunities for young girls and young women to develop their social, emotional, civic, and leadership skills. The model relied on organizing and training volunteer leaders that would deliver programming to the Girl Scouts.
In 2011, the first Baby Boomers turned 65, including the initial cohorts of Girl Scouts in our area. A group of civic-minded New Haven residents established East Rock Village to create a social network and support system to help people age in place – in their own homes and in their own local communities. The founders modeled their Village after a successful effort in Beacon Hill (Boston), connected their Village efforts to a national Village movement, and hired me as the Executive Director.
Fifty five years after moving to New Haven, I found myself in set of organizational and leadership circumstances similar to the Girl Scouts. For example, both East Rock Village and the Girls Scouts were founded by affluent, educated and civic minded individuals. The Villages and the Girl Scouts use a model that engages volunteers to deliver programs and services. The Villages rely on retirees just as the Girl Scouts relied on stay-at-home moms. The Villages and Girl Scouts reach into every type of community and link local efforts to national movements and national support systems.
Unlike the Girl Scouts, the minimum age of a Village member is 55 with most members more than 70 years young. I believe that the most cost effective and beneficial way for a community to serve elder residents involves activating and organizing members, volunteers, neighbors and friends of our HomeHaven members. HomeHaven’s social network and supports enable members to live safe, healthy, active lives free from anxiety and insolation in the comfort of their own homes. And, HomeHaven creates great comfort for relatives and friends who live in other areas of the state or country, and who worry about their elderly family and friends.
I witnessed first-hand the impact of the Girl Scouts on individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, and even an entire nation. I believe HomeHaven offers the same potential impact. I’m appreciative and excited to use my experiences to serve our growing population of elder residents. And, I’m proud to be a HomeHaven member.
In her Board Chair Statement for 2013 my predecessor, Jane
Jervis, discussed how the country mobilized for WWII and accommodated returning
servicemen with housing and education. Later, when the mentally disabled were
deinstitutionalized and there was a critical need to care for the children of
women entering the workforce, the country failed to rise to their needs. She
expressed her concern that there will be no national mobilization for the
“coming tidal wave” of baby boomers rapidly approaching old age. With the
current reduction of nursing home beds and deep cuts in Medicaid, we have to
address the problem ourselves. One promising effort is the “aging in place”
movement, where concerned communities mobilize volunteers to help the elderly
stay in their existing homes as long as possible.
At a recent membership recruitment meeting I gave a talk about East Rock Village and its evolution to Home Haven Villages. I described how the village movement, with its central concept of aging in one’s own home, was started and how East Rock Village changed its name to make incoming members from other towns and neighborhoods feel more included. I mentioned the likely impact of the boom generation on national social preparedness. Of course, I touched on the value that many of us find in volunteering, and how the name Home Haven actually refers to the administrative hub at the center of the more important spokes- Westville, Amity, and East Rock Villages. I closed my talk by describing how, for me, the organization had been a great benefit in the face of the decline and loss of my spouse. While she was sick, my involvement taught me about resources, benefits and procedures - information that would have been hard to collect if I’d tried to do it alone- especially during the course of that melancholy but inevitable process.
Over the past seven years, three in preparation and four in actual operation, the organization has accumulated answers and procedures for almost any kind of question or problem related to aging at home, ranging from setting up one’s house to be sound and safe, to what happens when a member may finally have to go to a more regimented senior living and care facility.
Volunteers are keys to our success. Most members and non members step forward spontaneously; others are drawn from the career experience and current interest profiles we ask for when they join. Our committees focus on social activities and essential services. We’ve learned that engagement, sharing and volunteering are enormously rewarding. They return far more than the cost of membership in terms of personal gratification and participation in solving problems that are as different as the people who are having them. In the process, our mutual knowledge of our neighbors is growing. Frightening unknowns are being diminished for all of us. When we participate in volunteering and sharing, the results can be wonderful.
I know, because it’s happening for me!
Our village contracts with a visiting nurse organization that carries out ongoing nursing and other health services to recovering and seriously ill members. We frequently visited one member who had a stroke to read to her, keep her company, and solve household problems. During a severe heat wave, we shopped for and bought an air conditioner for the full-time caregiver’s bedroom. Furthermore, we stayed in weekly touch with her daughters who lived in other states about their mother’s condition.
One of the most successful and sought after services that HomeHaven provides has come as a great surprise for us. A member, and English professor, offered to lead a memoir writing group that became so full that she divided it two groups each with 6 people. The groups are made up of men and women and have proved to be enormously important to the participants’ lives. The writing groups provide people with a chance to review and record their memories and appreciate the struggles and triumphs of others. One member said to me, “If I ever have to go to a Residential facility, I hope HomeHaven will let me pay for my membership fee so I can continue to go to the Memoir writing group!!!”.
Driving people to doctors’ appointments is one of our most important and called-upon volunteer services. One of our drivers is a gregarious man who owned a large number of video rental stores across Connecticut. Another driver was one of Yale’s great History of Art professors. Both have a lot of time on their hands and are willing to drive our members two or three times a week. The drivers said they love getting to know all of our interesting members and they feel they are providing a service that is enormously appreciated. One of these men received a valentine from a grateful member. One of our volunteers made a wonderful new friend with a 97 year-old man she drives every week to swim at Healthtrax. He loves flowers and she has invited him several times to her house where she tends a large flower garden.
Bitsie’s career has included 25 years of staff and board positions with the Girl Scouts. For 19 years she was executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven and upon her retirement was elected an alderman of the city of New Haven representing the downtown ward where she served for 8 years. She has been the executive director of our Village since March 2011.
Our Major challenges are related to membership. 1.We are most anxious to continue to attract people in thier 60's and 70's who are vigorous and energetic and in good health who can carry much of the weight of administering the program and carrying out volunteer service tasks. Many of these people consider themselves "not yet ready" to join us. As we become more visible and better marketed we attract an increasing number of people who are very elderly and often infirm whom we are delighted to serve but must balance with a younger group . In our recruitment of younger people we emphasize "we need you to help us help others and to assure that we will be here for a long time to come so that when you are infirm we are here for you." We realize that BabyBoomers are the generation who "did not trust anyone over 30". They consiuder themselves "forever young" - therefore presenting us with quite a a psychological challenge. 2. The other challenge is attracting less affluent and minority members to HomeHaven in a city that is very racially and economically segregated and often very polarized. We hafe worked for over two years and made only modest headway. For instance we have only been able to recruit 4 African American members to join. We are about to launch a project with Black Churches to try to determine what we need to do to be seen as an important resource to their population.
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