Photo courtesy of PNA Village.
Rides are one the most requested services. 

At Large In Ballard:Entering the village

By Peggy Sturdivant

The village is coming to Ballard. Or should I say being reintroduced to an area that has become more urban than village? After successfully establishing a multigenerational community surrounding Phinney Ridge the PNA Village is expanding its geographic boundaries to include Ballard and Fremont.

The PNA Village is a program of the Phinney Neighborhood Association, with offices at the Greenwood Senior Center. On Saturday, March 18 at 4 p.m. there will be an informational session at Ballard Library for local residents to learn about what it means to be part of the village, whether as member, volunteer, or both.

As usual when I hear about a wonderful program I wanted to sign up on the spot. A book club, cooking class, discussion groups, the ability to ask for help, and connect with interesting people. Potlucks, writing groups, decluttering…

The PNA Village is based on a concept started in a Boston suburb 15 years ago. A group of neighbors didn’t want to leave their homes as they aged, thereby losing their support network of friends. They set in motion a movement that has made its way the country, edging ever west with its expansion to Fremont and Ballard. (West Seattle is working on starting a village as well). Sometimes called virtual villages because the connection is through a third party, the knock on the door is the opposite of virtual. It’s real.

A member may have requested a ride to the doctor’s office, or help hemming their pants. Leaves may need to be raked. A furnace filter changed. A member pays very reasonable annual dues (less than $1/day for the year). They can phone or email a request for services, often what someone might ask of a family member or neighbor. Meanwhile volunteers are willing to provide those rides and service requests, from the hard to reach light bulb to cluttered closet.

The PNA Village gives seniors (and younger) a way to ask for help with simple favors, so they don’t feel like they’re imposing on their immediate neighbor, or overburdening their family. Some villages have age limits; PNA Village does not.

Enter the volunteers, who may already be members themselves, or else want to support the community into which they can age. Lynn Miller, Ballard Branch Librarian says many newcomers approach their help desk wanting to know about volunteer opportunities in their new neighborhood. Such volunteers may be new to the community and looking to build connections, or newly retired with time and energy. Volunteers can review the services request list and choose when, and if, they respond. There is a mandatory volunteer training.

Marguerite Langlois is both volunteer and member. A retired teacher she works on the newsletter, is on the social committee and offers various workshops such as on project management. There are many things she loves to do, but service request hint, vacuuming her car is not one of them. A member since the PNA Village launched in 2014 she has observed, “The village model is changing how seniors live.”

In addition to coordinating requests between members and volunteers, and providing general support, such as checking on members, the PNA Village also vets local businesses in order to provide referrals for jobs beyond the scope of a volunteer. They invite businesses to complete an application based on recommendations by members, for auto service, home repairs, plumbing, etc. The goal is to have a referral list of local tradespeople that seniors can trust on cost and responsiveness.

In expanding the boundaries, the PNA Village will be partnering with Ballard Senior Center and Sustainable Ballard. At the information session on March 18, the PNA Village Director Riana Nolet and several others will discuss the program benefits and highlights from its first two years (and 180 members and volunteers). In a survey of the PNA Village at the end of its second year the results revealed 86% overall satisfaction, over half of the members responded that their quality of life had improved as part of the village. The survey also revealed most members also volunteer at least once a month, in some form.

It’s rather strange to think that as Seattle neighborhoods become denser we feel more isolated than when there was a bit more space between homes (now townhouses). Helping to connect people who might not bump into each on the sidewalk anymore reduces the sense of separation between us. The PNA Village, as with that Northeast Seattle (NEST), and those all across the country don’t just aim to provide services, they aim to grow community.

“An advantage of the village is that you don’t wear out your own family and friends,” Langlois said, “and I’ve made very close friendships.”

PNA Village Information Session, March 18, 2017 at 4 p.m. Ballard Branch Library. See also https://www.phinneycenter.org/village/

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