It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a whole lot of seniors to create a village.
Out of the aging-in-place movement has sprung the concept of senior “villages.”
These are not physical places where folks over 50 live. They are networks of volunteers who help each other by sharing local resources, tips, and advice.
Armed with information, seniors can not only remain independent, they can continue to learn, grow, and, most importantly, use their unique skills, talents and knowledge to contribute to their communities.
At Home in Somers, a nonprofit organization, is the backbone of efforts locally.
According to Jane Pepino, chairwoman of its Person to Person committee, its social and educational arm, AHIS started out in 2008 with small gatherings in private homes.
The retired nurse’s husband, Roy, a former college bursar, was AHIS’ first president. The Pepinos, residents of Somers since 1969, have four children, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
Word of its good works spread and eventually the group found itself needing a permanent, more centralized, location for its programs.
Somers stepped up with space at the historical Van Tassell House on Route 138, where it hosts exercise classes and nutrition programs.
The town has mini-vans, which it uses to transport seniors to the grocery store or pharmacy and to doctor’s offices. The group’s volunteers mainly take members to medical appointments.
AHIS hosts informal gatherings where it brings in experts to speak about crucial topics such as health, home safety, finances, nutrition, and transportation.
Getting around northern Westchester can be tricky if you don’t drive.
The county’s Bee-Line Bus System stopped serving the area, citing lack of ridership. The closest taxi services are in Croton Falls and Brewster.
Heritage Hills, a condo development off Route 100, offers shuttle buses to the train station, but only to its own residents.
Lots of culture lovers would gladly take the train to New York City to attend plays, ballets and concerts, but with the nearest stations being in Purdys and Golden’s Bridge, this is problematic.
Fortunately, AHIS sponsors trips to places such as The Museum of the City of New York, a history hot spot; the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn.; and the nearby Katonah Museum of Art.
The group’s affiliation with the Somers Historical Society creates opportunities to tour places like the circa-1845 Wright-Reis Homestead and the American circus museum at the Elephant Hotel.
AHIS also holds roundtables where members trade tips on where to find affordable and honest contractors for home repairs, which restaurants and grocery stores deliver, and how to deal with emergency situations like power outages.
Recruited by AHIS, local high school students have been offering help navigating cell phones and computers for group members too.
AHIS has also helped close the generational gap by sponsoring get-togethers with Middle School students and members where they share life stories.
“It’s been eye-opening, for both sides,” says Pepino.
People sometimes forget that caring for the mind and spirit is as important as keeping physically fit.
Life can be lonely and isolating for some seniors. Offspring may no longer live nearby, and even when they do, are busy with career and family duties. Friends have passed away. The inevitable aches and pains that come with getting older may prevent them from getting out as much.
Retired surgeon Sanju Bakare knows how important moving is to heart and joint health. She found out about AHIS programs and town-sponsored yoga classes from Pepino, her neighbor and “rain-or-shine” walking buddy.
Yoga can be done at home, and it doesn’t require special equipment, or adherence to a set schedule, Bakare said.
She’s also found belonging to AHIS is a great way to remain socially active.
“You get to the point where even the thought of cleaning up the house so you can entertain people is challenging,” she said.
Thanks to its solid foundation, the group is up to facing new challenges such as declining membership.
“We are having to adapt to new situations. Things are changing all the time so we need to move forward as well,” Pepino says.
AHIS is now extending its search for new members beyond Somers’ borders to North Salem, Yorktown, and “environs.”
Its board of directors is hoping for a transfusion of “new blood.” A treasurer, a president, and someone with good communication skills are on the wish list.
Maintaining “a presence” is crucial to keeping the group, “viable, pertinent, and relevant,” says Pepino
AHIS has become a club at Heritage Hills and its newsletter contains information about the group’s activities. It posts on Facebook, and has a website, athomeinsomers.org, but needs someone to run both.
Pepino was inducted into Westchester County’s Senior Hall of Fame in 2014 for helping to found AHIS.
She has also been featured in an AARP publication on aging in place and AHIS is officially designated as a “Livable Communities Village.”
In the AARP piece, published when AHIS was just getting rolling, Pepino spoke of the importance of intergenerational socializing.
As new retirees and empty nesters then, the Pepinos were feeling a bit isolated until a younger neighbor invited them to a backyard barbecue.
They began making new friends and started to believe they were “living in a village again.”
Young or old, everyone has something special to bring to the table.
“You never know if you can give something to someone unless you put yourself out there,” Pepino said.
Whether that’s giving them a ride to the pharmacy, helping them navigate government bureaucracy, or simply spending a minute or two listening, it’s all valuable.
And there are always new needs to fulfill.
“It never stops, life,” says Pepino.
To volunteer, or become a member, call Pepino at (914) 277-8508, or Daniel Sudlik at (914) 276-3125, or email Jackee Cannino, at email@example.com.