Jacki Jepson and Ray Miller love their 1902 Craftsman in Oakland's Dimond District. Both 76, they bought it in the late 1970s for $48,000 and prize its original woodwork and proximity to a library and Park Boulevard shops and restaurants.
After it survived a fire 10 years ago, Ray remodeled the tiny, cramped kitchen into a large, skylit space where he could indulge his passion for cooking.
But Ray no longer cooks. A series of health crises has left him weak and unable to walk, dress or leave his bed or chair.
Even with Ray's health problems, Jaki and Ray have no intention of moving into a retirement community or assisted living facility. They want to stay in their home as long as possible and are grateful the North Oakland Village is there to help.
The village isn't a place. It is a community-based based social support organization that helps seniors deal with many of the day-to-day challenges of staying in their homes as they age.
North Oakland Village connects its some 50 members with free or affordable rides, home repair services and social and educational programs, such as a monthly potluck at its offices in the First Congregational Church on Harrison Street.
Jaki has asked volunteers to help her take Ray to a doctor's appointment or to come in and stay with Ray, who can't be left alone. A volunteer comes on Thursdays to keep Ray company while Jaki runs errands, goes out with friends or gets together with other village members, who have also become friends.
"At first it was a social outlet for me," says Jaki. "I instantly loved the people. I went to a couple receptions, and these are people I would choose for my friends. They are very caring, interested and interesting."
For a growing number of seniors, Jaki and Ray's experience is a picture of how they would like to continue to live independently in the homes and communities they know and cherish.
North Oakland is part of a growing grass-roots movement that aims to allow seniors to "age in place." More than 120 villages operate in the United States, Canada and Australia, according to the Village to Village Network. More than 100 are in development, including three in the East Bay. Within the next two years, villages will be operating in Clayton, Walnut Creek and Lamorinda.
"It's about seniors taking back control," says Patsy Barich who is one of the founding members of the new Greater Walnut Creek Village. By staying in their homes longer, seniors also save the often steep costs associated with moving into a retirement community or assisted living facility.
The movement started in 2002 with a group of friends in Boston's Beacon Hill who wanted an alternative to the "warehouses for the elderly" that separate seniors from younger people and people with varied backgrounds.
Villages typically form tax-exempt nonprofit organizations or partner with existing agencies that already have a menu of services in place. Members decide what services each village will provide and how to pay for them, usually through a combination of collecting annual dues and relying on volunteer help. The North Oakland Village, for example, charges $600 for an individual and $750 for couples.
"We basically look at what it would take for people to live independently in their homes," says Judith Coates, one of the founding members of the North Oakland Village.
She admits "pure selfishness" partly motivated her to start the village with other interested seniors. "I've lived in my house off Piedmont Avenue now 34 years," she says. "I've always joked I needed to stay there until they carried me out. I thought at some point I might need some assistance."
In some ways, villages try to provide the sense of community and practical support offered by extended families in many cultures. Coates notes that Latinos and African-Americans, with their traditions of multiple generations living together, may be less likely to join villages.
A 2014 study by UC Berkeley's School of Social Welfare and the Pacific Institute for Research said villages "offer a promising new model" for improving services for America's growing aging population. Most villagers surveyed said they rely on the villages for socializing, followed by transportation, household assistance and help with technology. At the North Oakland Village, volunteers can help with simple chores or home repairs, such as changing a light bulb. For more complex repairs, North Oakland and other villages provide lists of pre-screened companies.
With their emphasis on bolstering social connections, villages can "positively affect" seniors' lives by reducing isolation. Members who get the most out village life volunteer or participate in village-sponsored events.
Villages, however, may be limited in how much they can help people stay in their homes because most don't provide personal care, disease management or other health care services, the study said.
So far, Mary Bulf, 90, of Palo Alto, is managing to stay put, thanks to the Avenidas Village.
Bulf, a retired teacher, was eager to rebuild her social life after caring for her husband who died of dementia in 2005. But she gave up driving a few years ago and has dealt with health problems that make it difficult for her to stay on her feet for very long.
Through the village, she has found rides to doctors' appointments and friends she sees at monthly "lunch bunch" meetings at local restaurants.
She also volunteers for the village in a way that lets her work from home: calling members to tell them about upcoming meetings and the availability of a binder that contains information about end-of-life decisions.
"I love doing this," she says. "I've met so many nice people that way!"
Perhaps more than anything, she says the village offers her a "feeling of security." She's known of people who were able to get through health crises without giving up their homes. "They just have to call, and (the village) will make arrangements to bring food or someone to take you to the doctor and get you help to keep your house going."
She adds, "They'll call you every morning if you want. I'm not ready for that yet."
Ashby Village, Berkeley, 510-204-9200, www.ashbyvillage.org.
Clayton Valley Village, Clayton, 925-673-6767, www.claytonvalleyvillage.org, in development.
Eden Area Village, Hayward, 510-247-1057, http://edenareavillage.org, in development.
Foster City Village, Foster City, 650-378-8541, http://fostercityvillage.clubexpress.com.
Greater Walnut Creek Village, 415-596-5860.
Lamorinda Village, Orinda, 925-283-7328, http://lamorindavillage.org, in development.
Marin Villages, including Homestead, Mill Valley, North San Rafael, Novato, Ross Valley and Tiburon Peninsula villages, 415-457-4633, www.marinvillages.org.
North Oakland Village, Oakland, 510-547-8500, www.northoaklandvillage.org.
Rianda House Senior Activity Center, St. Helena, 707-963-8555, www.riandahouse.org.
San Carlos Village, San Carlos, 650-867-7661, in development.
Santa Cruz Village, El Cerrito, 510-778-1036.
Sausalito Village, Sausalito, 415-332-3325, www.sausalitovillage.org.
Sequoia Village, San Carlos, 650-867-7661.
Village Network of Petaluma, 707-772-5132, www.villagenetworkofpetaluma.org.
Source: Village to Village Network, Arlington, Virginia, www.vtvnetwork.org