Nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population in 2010 was 45 years of age or older. That means a good portion of Americans will either be eyeing retirement or already in the midst of their twilight years in less than a decade.
It also represents a growing need for innovative ways for seniors to navigate what can be a difficult life chapter.
Some seniors who can no longer perform basic tasks like shopping for groceries may believe they have no choice but to consider assisted living or in-home care. But what if you don't want to move or can't afford home care? What if you don't need too much more than a weekly visit from an able-bodied set of hands to help around the house or get you to your appointments?
Enter River West Village.
"Our main goal is to build an inter-generational community that helps support older adults to fulfill their desire to live in their own home as long as possible," says River West coordinator Lyn Trainer. She sees the country's aging population as "an exciting thing."
"One of the women in the village keeps talking about the 'silver tsunami,'" she says.
Southwest Portland-based River West is one of several neighborhood senior "villages" under the umbrella of a nonprofit organization called Villages N.W. The villages share administrative resources, but each operates on a community level to offer individualized support.
"It is not a physical place," Trainer says. "It is neighbors coming together to provide a meaningful community engagement service and the opportunity to give back."
Trainer explained that nearly three-quarters of aging baby boomers can't afford assisted living. She says people who become members of River West can gain affordable access to two levels of key resources. The base membership provides a social network, while the higher-level membership also includes a wide range of volunteer services.
'Neighbors helping neighbors'
River West is expected to be completely up and running in late 2017, but the village has already begun organizing events like weekly coffee groups at Prosperity Pies in Multnomah Village and monthly TGIF wine socials. The idea behind the social outlet is to prevent feelings of isolation that seniors sometimes acquire as they lose the ability to get around, or as those nearest to them start to die.
Trainer says the village needs a baseline of 40 members and between 30 and 50 volunteers to begin offering a full range of services.
She says a vast majority of volunteers are at least 50 and live in the area they serve. River West is currently doing outreach to build a network of younger volunteers who can do home maintenance — gutter cleaning, leaf raking, changing light bulbs and smoke detector batteries, etc — and provide rides for residents who no longer drive.
Trainer also hopes to someday partner with local businesses such as plumbers and electricians to offer discounts to higher-tier members. River West will not provide medical or nursing care, but it will set up rides to scheduled doctors' appointments.
Volunteers must pass a national background check and go through an orientation training, Trainer says.
One of the things that attracted outreach volunteer and Southwest Portland resident Anne Gormely was the grassroots feel of the organization.
"It sounded like neighbors helping neighbors, and I like doing that," Gormley says. "One of the real things that attracted me is that the organizers and the leaders were intelligent, smart, articulate. They were involved in the community… I thought, 'These are the friends I want to have.'"
Trainer and Gormely also acknowledge that they will likely be in need one day of the kinds of services River West will offer, and they say they are looking to build up the infrastructure now.
"I want it here for my friends, neighbors, family and, someday, me," Trainer says.
For more information about River West Village, go to riverwestvillage.org.