The Third Third

Retirement: It Takes a Village

Sometimes, when the options simply aren’t acceptable, you have to create something new and different. That’s what the founders of Beacon Hill Village did three years ago when they began thinking seriously about their retirement. Having rejected group homes, assisted living, moving to a golfing community or relocating to a condo to be near their children, they developed an innovative neighborhood concierge service that provides access to all the amenities of senior living without the dislocation. As a result, residents of the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, can now grow old in their own homes, maintain their independence, and confidently and comfortably provide for almost all the exigencies of aging without relying on family or friends. It’s a revolutionary concept -- and it’s working! In fact, it’s working so well, the founders have produced a $300 how-to manual to help other interested communities replicate their efforts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab is working on a plan of the concept that could be used around the world. This is how it works on Beacon Hill: for a membership fee of $550 a person ($780 a couple; and a subsidized $100/$150 for low-income households), residents have access to a panoply of high quality, well-priced services, from help with grocery shopping and dog walking to medical emergencies and even 24-hour nursing care. Through the Village, as it’s called, they can also secure referrals to well-vetted personal trainers, caterers, computer advisors, dry cleaners, plumbers, errand-runners, companions and the like. But the Village is more than services. In fact, Beacon Hill Village turns the very concept of retirement on end by promoting full engagement with the literary, cultural, educational, civic and social opportunities the generally upscale urban neighborhood affords. Instead of the crafts classes, card games and Thursday night movies (“Auntie Mame”) you’ll find on the activities calendar of a conventional senior residence, the Beacon Hill Village newsletter touts travel, lunch at local restaurants, concerts in nearby parks and at Tanglewood, day trips to the New England shore and museums, and discussions with community leaders about politics, medicine and the media. The emphasis is on living, not on retiring or going “quietly into the night,” not on being “put” anywhere, but on staying put, independence and peace of mind. The founders worked to keep costs comparable to the alternatives; a full range of services independently contracted for through the Village, up to and including home health care, even 24-hour nursing care, will run about the same as the cost of living in a full-service senior community. A nonprofit agency, Beacon Hill Village was also committed to serving poorer residents as well as the wealthy, and much of the agency’s continued fund-raising is directed toward this goal. Beacon Hill Village has geography going for it; its membership area can be measured in blocks rather than suburban miles. It also has benefited from strategic alliances with Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts General Hospital and HouseWorks, a Boston home services company, from help from Harvard Business School alumni who assisted with the business plan, and from financial support from several foundations. But what seems to have mattered most is the passionate commitment of its founders whose meticulous research, creative thinking, and consultation with key professional advisors – coupled with their very immediate self-interest (all were over 60 and lived in the community) – made it happen. For more information:
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