RIO RANCHO, N.M. — In a rural community with an aging population, the members of Village in the Village have found a way to curb social isolation while helping Corrales seniors live independently in their homes longer.
Board member Chris Wentz said the group makes that happen by hosting social events and helping connect members who may need help with transportation or a household chore with other members who are happy to step in.
The Corrales group, which has about 120 members, is part of a larger international organization with an existing chapter in Santa Fe and another close to the University of New Mexico. A few more chapters are in development across New Mexico. It was founded about two years ago and became the 141st chapter. The network’s website explains that the mission is to enable communities to manage aging “in community organizations initiated and inspired by their members.”
The Corrales version of Village in the Village organizes a plethora of social opportunities: bocce matches, hikes, weekly coffee meetups.
For residents of the semi-rural community, it’s not unusual to go days without a glimpse of a neighbor.
“There’s just a need there,” Judy Salas said. “A social need.”
Alongside the activities, Village in the Village also started a system to dispatch members to provide transportation or help with household chores to other members from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We found out that 60 percent to 70 percent of our service requests are transportation,” Wentz said. Corrales has no public transportation system.
Along with transportation, though, members often help other members with little tasks like taking out the trash, or changing lightbulbs or smoke detector batteries. They have many other services, too, such as a medical equipment rental program that lets members donate unneeded medical equipment – crutches, wheelchairs – that other members can later borrow.
There are three membership tiers that all come at different prices. Full members receive services and may do some volunteering. Associate members pay a lower fee in order to participate in social activities while offering their services to full members. Auxiliary members participate in social events and volunteer.
“This is really about people helping each other,” founding member Joann Weiss said. “That’s why we really encourage members to participate in some form as volunteers.”
She said that volunteering often offers a chance for members to get to know each other one-on-one, as they drive together to an event or as one helps the other with a chore.
“This isn’t the kind of thing an agency does,” Weiss said. “How do they create friends for you?”
It relieves some of the pressure that’s often placed on neighbors or family members. Volunteers aren’t overburdened with requests – like a close friend or relative might be – because there are so many of them. For some members, the group acts as a sort of stand in for family.
“An awful lot of our members don’t have family members here,” Weiss said.
The group also offers members a bit of reassurance. If they’re injured and can’t drive to the doctor, someone is around to take them. If they’re too sick to walk a pet, someone will step in to help.
Deborah Blank serves on the group’s membership committee and said the group provides something that can’t be quantified.
“It’s peace of mind,” she said.