A few weeks ago, the Gazette’s front page story on the aging of the Vineyard population hit home. From the story we learned that the number of Vineyard residents 60 and older is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the state, and that some estimates show that the number of Islanders between the ages of 60 and 70 will triple by 2020.
Time seems to be going faster since it’s gone digital. Because I am a card-carrying member of this demographic, it got me thinking. The youngest baby boomer is already over 50. But since 50 is the new 40, it’s going to take a few more years for that boomer to admit that he or she has crossed that line into senior citizenship, to recognize it’s time to give up kayaking for just plain yakking. Both of which are accepted pastimes on this Island.
We are not only living longer but apparently retiring here in droves. Of course, the older we get, the more basics we need — housing, transportation, social and medical services, and community support. We want to stay here, safe and secure in our home and in our lives. That’s where Vineyard Village at Home comes in.
To feel more a part of our community, my wife Paula and I joined this nonprofit organization as helpers. We and about 50 others volunteer to drive folks who are elderly or compromised to appointments, shops, markets, museums, theatres, libraries, events or ferries. Volunteers also spend time going to people where they live and offering human interaction or help around the house, including technical assistance for computers. This way, those who join up with Vineyard Village do not have to surrender their homes, their lifestyles or their time on the Island.
Volunteering for Vineyard Village was Paula’s idea. We do not have children, so what better way to create an extended family than to offer our services helping those who are older than us? Time to pay it forward. It’s called community.
As a washashore, I not only hold dear the ideas of service and community but also relish the golden nuggets of Vineyard lore provided by those who have lived it, those in our care. It’s amazing what you can learn by driving a nonagenarian to an appointment. I have heard many colorful anecdotes about Island life back when my passengers were spring chickens and summer people weren’t born yet. When I drove Ruth Stiller, I learned her maiden name was Cronig and all about that family’s Island history. When I drove Margot Weston, I learned how her father was at the founding of the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club and how her brother was at the founding of Minute Maid orange juice.
Polly Brown of Vineyard Haven started Vineyard Village in January 2007 and became its first member. She modeled it after Beacon Hill Village in Boston and felt the timing was right to initiate a continuing care retirement community concept on the Island. “People I knew were leaving the Island because there were not enough services.” Polly said. “They felt they could not stay in their homes. We hope to provide what you need to stay. This Island would not be what it is without the people who are now aging here. They have taken good care of us, and now it’s our turn to take care of them.”
Members pay an annual fee of $475, which can be adjusted for those who cannot afford it. The fee covers administrative costs and insurance. The organization gets referrals from senior services around the Island. The idea is to fill in gaps left by other services, mainly, transportation, Polly explained. Doctors, nurses, lawyers and police have been educated about the program.
We are all in the same boat. Time sails on. So as I age, between naps it feels good to help others and learn about my new homeland in the same mission. We are all aging and soon we can all take full advantage of this organization. Some day the server will become the client, the driver will become the passenger, the caregiver will become the cared-for.
A future is measured and valued by the maintaining and sustaining of a present. It’s good for the soul, a great reliever of stress, to be able to live in your home comfortably. It’s hard to plan for the future. But you don’t need a crystal ball to predict some of the basics of the aging process, the pitfalls and potholes that lie ahead — like slowing down, diminishing reflexes, assorted frailties and unthinkable body blows. As Chuck Berry once sang: “C’est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.” Yikes, I just discovered Chuck Berry is 86! I wonder if he still duck-walks — or does he need a ride?
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.