Non-Profit Concierge Service Offered To Help Seniors Age-In-Place

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A recent article by Tom Banse discusses a growing trend in the Aging-in-Place movement—senior concierge services.

According to Banse, the holidays are sometimes the one time of year when far flung families reunite. “It’s also a chance for adult children to see how their aging parents are faring,” he adds. The article contends that the fast growth of the older population is fueling interest in a new breed of nonprofit that seeks to enable seniors to stay in their own homes longer. Banse notes that this involves a twist on the adage, “…it takes a village.”

The article profiles Philip Theil, who is 91 years old. This former naval architect lives in a century-old, Craftsman-style house in Seattle’s University District—and that’s where he wants to stay. “As far as I’m concerned, I would not like to leave this place,” Theil says. “Living in a group situation is something I couldn’t tolerate—I’d kill myself before I had to do that!”

Theil explains that he and his wife manage pretty well right now. Their two story house is stuffed to the rafters with the books, artwork, and projects of a life well lived. But the couple can feel their advancing age and they realize that they will need more help soon with basic household chores—like that light bulb at the top of the stairs.

“To change that tube, I have to bring in a stepladder and put it partly on the landing and partly on the stairs and climb up,” Theil notes. “It’s kind of trepiditious.” Banse notes that “in the old days, you’d ask your kid to climb up there or maybe the teenager from down the street when he comes over to mow the lawn.” But for the Theils, those days are done and the kids are grown up and gone.

“We have kids and we call them occasionally, but one lives in Munich, Germany, another lives in London, and a third lives in Los Angeles,” he explains. “They’re not going to drop around for a weekend call type of thing!”

So the Theils are looking into joining a “Virtual Village.” It’s not a village in the literal sense, but a local network of volunteers and service providers dedicated to helping the elderly age-in-place. The concept originated in Boston, and then grew into a national movement that’s now arriving in the Northwest.

Tom La Pointe was recently hired to start a “village” organization in Moscow, Idaho. “The ‘silver tsunami’ is the term that’s tossed about,” La Pointe says. “We are trying to get ready for what is anticipated to be a glut of baby boomers retiring within the next twenty or more years.”

La Pointe’s nonprofit, named My Own Home, aims to serve a vast middle ground of seniors—those who are too well off to qualify for public services, but not rich enough to afford their own staff to do things like change light bulbs.

Judy Kinney directs a similar start-up called North East Seattle Together (NEST). “When someone calls us, they may say, ‘I need help with transportation.’ We’re going to work with them to see if it is a volunteer that helps, if it’s a vetted vendor that helps, or if there is a community service in place,” Kinney explains. “That’s the process we’re going to do when someone picks up the phone. People have called it a concierge—people call and say, ‘I need this help.’ We help you figure out the best choice.”

Kinney’s group is one of about half a dozen in the Northwest aiming to launch in the first half of 2012. A pair in Oregon is already in operation, one in Florence on the coast and there’s also the High Desert Village in Bend.

The most requested services include rides to the doctor, simple home repairs, help with grocery shopping, and picking up prescriptions or big items. In Moscow, Idaho, La Pointe imagines snow shoveling, yard work, or computer tech support will also rank high. “On the other hand, if you need daily care or 24/7 care, that is not what we do. We don’t do bathing services for example,” he says. “We are here and we exist for the folks who might need a little extra assistance—that light bulb I talked about earlier.”

La Pointe says his non-profit is not a charity. It, like the others, will charge a membership fee. In the Palouse, that comes to $450 per year for a single person and $550 for a household. He is aiming for 40 members by the end of next year..

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