In Florida, there are villages in the works in Maitland, Celebration, both near Orlando, and Wellington in Palm Beach County. “A church or another already existing community group is... a good starting point because there are already structures in place to collaborate,” said Natalie Galucia, member services coordinator for the Village to Village Network.
The concept began in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood in 2001. A group of residents, led by two older women living alone, founded a nonprofit to provide or negotiate services and support for seniors who wanted to stay in their homes. “They realized they needed help coordinating all of the supports and services to make this a reality and there was nothing like this readily available for them in the community,” Galucia said.
The Beacon Hill Village proved popular, first in urban areas and then in suburbs and smaller rural communities. While each village differs depending on the needs of the members, most offer discounted services that have been vetted by the organization.
Changing demographics support the village concept. The 65 and older set numbered 41.4 million in 2011, an increase of 18 percent since 2000, according to the federal government’s Administration on Aging. That number is projected to almost double by 2040, with much of the growth from the over 85 crowd, expected to jump from 5.7 million to 14.1 million.
Those are the people who will need more of the kinds of services Surf Bal Bay Club provides. Almost 12 million older Americans live alone, and twice as many women than men do. Numerous surveys show that they prefer to stay home, among familiar surroundings and with longtime friends nearby. That option is also cheaper than going to an institution, which can run into tens of thousands of dollars annually.
“There’s a challenge here,” JCS’s Stock said, “because the older a person gets, the more services they need, but also the more comfortable they are in their own home.”
The first concierge service in Florida was launched in Coral Gables about five years ago by the Coral Gables Community Foundation. It eventually closed when it couldn’t sign up enough members. Lutz, who served as its director for a time, said the program registered 120 members but needed twice as many to stay afloat.
JCS’s version is different, with the agency building on an already existing system of resources and venues to provide services. “We already have an array of programs, so this has allowed us to do a relatively quick start up,” Stock said.
Part of the challenge may be to convince members to use more of their membership privileges. The Largevers of Bay Harbor Islands — Barbara, 77, and Arnold, 86 — use a discounted service to employ a companion four days a week. She drives them to appointments and occasionally does light cleaning. “It’s an absolute godsend,” said Barbara.
But the couple knows the club provides plenty more and is planning to explore educational programs and cultural activities.
“They have events all the time, and I hear they’re fantastic,” she added. “We really have to take advantage of what they’re offering.”