Like many people, Anne Tobey and her husband, Peter Schoenbach, wanted to spend their retirement years in a diverse neighborhood with easy access to arts and cultural attractions. But when they moved to a new neighborhood in Philadelphia 14 years ago, they didn't know many people in the area.
They've since joined Penn's Village, a largely volunteer group that coordinates help and social engagement for members. "It's a support system," executive director Jane Eleey said.
Most Americans want to stay in their own homes as they age. Almost 80% of people 50 and over in a 2018 AARP survey said they wanted to stay in their communities as long as possible, but only 46% thought they'd be able to stay in their current homes.
Where someone lives has a huge effect on aging. Studies show that older people who are physically and mentally active tend to live longer, and civic involvement plays a large role in that.
As a result, organizations are stepping in to help people stay connected. Neighborhood-level groups, nonprofit organizations, government-backed partnerships, and communities designed for aging in place can provide everything from companionship and tech support to transportation and home repairs. Most people in the AARP survey said they'd be interested in joining an organization and be willing to pay an annual fee.
Penn's Village in Philadelphia is part of a national network of hundreds of "villages" designed to help older adults age in place.
"A lot of people move into central Philadelphia from the suburbs" and are drawn to the group as a way to meet like-minded companions, Eleey said.
Penn's Village has about 350 members within its boundaries. It has a small staff and is funded by dues, fundraising and occasional grants.
It's a model likely to gain favor as the population ages.
"The community is so important," said Marianne Waller, a writer and retired pharmacy advertising copywriter and Penn's Village member. "As you retire, your whole life focus changes, because you aren't up and out at eight in the morning and around people all day. You have to figure out how to structure your life now."
The system works well for those who don't want to rely on friends or family for help. "I really like to think of it as seniors helping seniors," Waller said.
Eleey noted that "it often brings a sense of relief to the children of older adults" to know their parents have a support system. "It gives people a sense of reassurance about their ability to stay in their own home."
Penn's Village has three levels of membership, with annual dues ranging from $200 to $600 a household. The lower level offers access to programs and social events; the highest level gives access to services.
"We do a broad range of services, but only things neighbors would do for each other," Eleey said. There's no "hands-on care" — volunteers won't bathe people daily, for example — but members can get help setting up a new computer or finding a ride to an appointment.
Penn's Village has benefits that may not be obvious at first, members say. The group "provides a comfortable place to discuss the uncomfortable," Tobey said. "We're all aging. We're all facing the end of life, and there are programs that address that directly."
This story is from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.