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San Diego Seniors Form Village To Help Each Other Age At Home

Tierrasanta Village serves as a role model for aging communities across the nation

Reported by Katie Euphrat

A group of seniors in a San Diego community are taking aging into their own hands. KPBS reporter Susan Murphy tells us they’re abandoning the idea of a retirement home by joining together to help each other grow old in their own homes.

A group of seniors in the community of Tierrasanta want no part of a retirement home. They’re determined to change the experience of aging by staying put in their own homes for the rest of their lives.

To do this, 200 of them — and numbers are growing — have banned together to form a village, with a neighbors-helping-neighbors approach.

Naturally Occurring Retirement Community

Hundreds of senior citizens in a San Diego community are taking aging into their own hands.

Tierrasanta is considered a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC). The neighborhood wasn't built for seniors, but hundreds of people have lived there for decades and they’re now growing old together.

Many Tierrasanta residents bought their homes as the neighborhood was built in the 1970s. Now, more than 5,500 seniors live in the 92124 zip code.

"When your kids grew up and left, you found you didn’t know anybody," said Susan Deininger, co-founder of the Tierrasanta Village of San Diego (TVSD). "Everybody’s garage door comes down and this provides an opportunity to get to know one another, get out there."

Deininger, a retired social worker, said she was desperate to find life in the community after she retired.

"Then I saw this village thing in AARP and I said, 'This is it.' I began looking for somebody else who could find life here," Deininger said.

It Takes A Village

Today, the membership-based village, formed in 2006, provides an essential support system and four daily social activities for people 50 and older, focused on health and wellness, arts and culture and education.

Most events take place at a neighborhood condo clubhouse, which the group rents for $25 per day. Funding comes from $15 monthly membership dues, grants and fundraisers.

Photo by Susan Murphy

By the year 2030, one in five people living in the U.S. will be 65 years or older. The 85-and-over population is projected to rise from 6 million today to 19 million in the year 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"We did a big show two years ago," recalled Beverly Slater-Shehan, who was a teacher in Tierrasanta for 35 years and one of the Village's first members.

"Remember, Susan?" she asked Deininger. "We have a group that sings and plays musical instruments," Slater-Shehan said.

"Stroll down memory lane,” remembered Deininger.

Game days and blood-pressure checks are equally well attended. Deininger said they have just one rule.

"We leave religion and politics at the door — work very hard at that — so that we just share all the different things we have in common," Deininger said.

Many activities are led by village members who are retired professionals like teachers and doctors, as well as those who were labor workers and stay-at-home moms.

"The best part has been reacquainting with people I met 40 years ago when our children were really small," said Fran Godfrey Zweibel, who raised three children in the neighborhood.

Godfrey Zweibel said she and her husband, Greg always thought they'd move into a 55-and-older community.

"We were really looking at them right before I retired, but there's no need," said Godfrey Zweibel. "We've got everything we could want and more just staying in our own home here."

Godfrey Zweibel said her favorite village activity is the writer's retreat, where the group is learning memoir writing with plans to publish a book.

John Batchelder, Tierrasanta resident for 23 years and the village's care committee chair said he's caught the Village's contagious enthusiasm for healthy living and giving.

"We have a number of people over 90. We have one person who is 101, about to turn 102," said Batchelder. "And I’ve been, and a number of people have been, involved with them in providing rides, and when they get sick, being available with them, and just keeping them involved in this community."

Photo credit: U.S. Census Bureau

In the year 2000, approximately 12 percent of the population was 65 years or older. That number is expected to skyrocket to nearly 20 percent in less than 20 years.

Village Movement Takes Root

The village idea is gaining momentum across the nation as the so-called “silver tsunami” of baby boomers continue to reach their golden years.

By the year 2030, one in five people living in the U.S. will be 65 years or older. The 85-and-over population is projected to rise from 6 million today to 19 million in the year 2050.

"I think it’s a movement that’s just going to envelop, you know, the whole senior movement all around the country," said Pam Chapman, executive director of TVSD.

Chapman said TVSD was one of the first senior villages in the U.S. Now there are 100, and hundreds more in the works.

The Tierrasanta Village serves as role model for NORCs across the nation, with one unique touch: they call it a time bank.

Village Time Bank

"So what we’re able to do is bundle up all your skills and all your favorite things to do and then offer those to the community, receive time dollars for those, and then take all those things you hate doing — for me, hemming, ironing, sewing, weeding, those kinds of things — and farm those out for the people who love to do those," explained Chapman.

"I have someone from the village that I’m paying time bank dollars to help me organize my office cause it’s a big mess," said Slater-Shehan, as she burst out laughing.

In return, Slater-Shehan organizes villagers' special parties and events, complete with a jingle or rap that she writes and performs.

Joanne Kuelbs, time bank bookkeeper, said car rides are the most popular "purchase."

"There are rides to doctors appointments, grocery shopping. Some people can’t get out to do that if they’re no longer driving," said Kuelbs.

Joanne Kuelbs' husband, Tom Kuelbs, a retired dentist, is also a talented handyman. He recently earned a time bank dollar for fixing village member Mary Fox's squeaky garage door.

The Kuelbs, both in their 80s, have five grown children, but just one lives in San Diego. They said the village has given them confidence and comfort to stay in their home.

"People looking out for each other, broadening your circle of acquaintances so you have more people looking out for you as time goes on," Tom Kuelbs said.


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