My Glacier Village part of national effort to assist older adults

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Frances Kochicas laughs with her friends during the Older Americans Picnic in this file photo. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake file)

Come mid-September, a nationwide movement known as The Village, which strives to help older adults independently “age in place” and develop social circles, will make its way to the Flathead Valley.

The new local chapter, My Glacier Village, will become part of the Village Network — a nationwide nonprofit volunteer organization consisting of more than 200 established “villages” in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

And in Flathead County, one of the fastest aging counties in Montana, where about a quarter of the population is 60 or older, My Glacier Village offers assistance to the demographic by providing the means to be active and care for themselves and one another, as opposed to “being taken care of.”

“We give older adults the resources and the relationships to allow them to stay in their home or place of comfort for as long as possible,” said Cindy O’Boyle, who co-founded My Glacier Village with Jennifer Prunty.

Prunty, a former real estate agent, and O’Boyle, former publisher for Montana Women’s Magazine and executive director of the Montana Women’s Foundation, have both experienced firsthand the challenges of ensuring their own relatives age well and with a sense of independence. Prunty said when she was looking into ways she could help her mother grow older where she actually wanted to, she stumbled upon The Village and started looking into what the movement had done for different aging communities in the U.S.

“All the research I found kept pointing back to The Village,” Prunty said. “It was pretty obvious that the Flathead could benefit from the model, too.”

The two “pulled the trigger” on the local chapter last October and began pursuing the initial steps to forming the nonprofit. Since then, they have spent the majority of their working days making sure that when My Glacier Village launches in September, it’s a success.

Studies conducted by AARP show the “vast majority of older adults want to remain in their homes and communities.” And Prunty and O’Boyle believe The Village’s model is a means to help make that a possibility.

With the organization, older adults in the Flathead Valley community can sign up for a $30 per month membership which, among other things, will allow access to a group of Flathead Valley volunteers that can assist them with various tasks in and around their residences and local communities.

“Seniors today are giving a new idea of what aging is,” O’Boyle said. “They are active and they want to be socially engaged and we [My Glacier Village] give them the resources and the relationships to allow them to stay in their home or place of comfort for as long as possible and age independently.”

Prunty said the service requests are currently submitted online through the membership platform, but will eventually be able to be called in as well. The requests are then picked up by a volunteer, as time allows.

The types of services one requests are essentially broken down into two categories.

The first are basic service-oriented undertakings that can range from helping someone weed their garden to assisting with a grocery store trip, or other chore-like tasks that become more difficult with age.

The second, which Prunty and O’Boyle describe as the most important aspect of My Glacier Village, are the requests for services that enrich one’s social life. These could include helping someone get to church, attend a picnic or going to other events that might help them become better acquainted with their community.

“There is the services part, which is important, but the village movement is more about connecting people to other people and giving them purpose. Older adults want to be involved and feel valued and be engaged so out of everything the Village does, I think that’s the most important,” Prunty said.

The $30 membership fee essentially allows for five service-oriented tasks per month. However, the requests geared more toward enhancing community relationships will not count toward someone’s five allotted requests.

“We don’t want people to have to pick between ‘I need someone to help me weed my garden but I’d also really like to go to the farmers market or to this little gathering,’” Prunty said. “We don’t want anyone to have to choose between a service or something social. That’s something that’s so great about this whole model and movement.”

Prunty and O’Boyle are still ironing out the startup kinks for My Glacier Village.

The nonprofit still needs a board of directors, which is slowly coming together, and the two are hoping to get more donors and volunteers on board prior to the official launch in September. There are currently about 15 volunteers confined mostly to the Kalispell and Whitefish areas, but eventually they hope to have a volunteer base that extends into Bigfork, Columbia Falls and elsewhere.

The founders also acknowledge that $30 is a steep price for many living on retirement funds and other means, but they hope to eventually offer scholarships to make it more affordable. Prunty and O’Boyle are also in the process of building a “professional providers directory” that will offer contacts to local businesses for services that cannot be completed by volunteers, such as plumbing and electrical issues.

And keeping up with the goal of My Glacier Village to establish deep community roots and relationships, the founders have already organized a number of “Village Gatherings.” The get-togethers include events such as creating fall centerpieces and succulents at Plant Land and a “cooking for one” class to be put on by O’Boyle.

“For so many of these older adults, they are starting a whole new chapter in their lives and they want to be engaged and have a purpose,” Prunty said. “We want to give them that.”

For more information and to see upcoming events, go to myglaciervillage.com or call 406-250-8784

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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