And it is potentially life-changing, even before retirement. Dr Sandefur’s village, Fearrington Cares, is in a subdivision of 2,500 people rather than spread across a ward or several municipalities.
Dr. Sandefur was an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke when he moved to the subdivision with his wife, Brittany Marino Sandefur, and two daughters in April 2020. The village, which serves all of the subdivision, for most residents over 65 without charging dues (fundraising and donations cover its costs), was not the main attraction – a rental house in a tight pandemic real estate market was.
Dr. Sandefur began teaching remotely almost as soon as he moved in. With the extra time at home, he volunteered for Fearrington Cares, changing neighbors’ light bulbs and moving heavy plants from porches. Then he discovered that, as in other villages, volunteers were encouraged to offer their own skills. With his superior command of the average computer, he quickly retrieves IDs and creates Hulu accounts. “People need help with technical things,” he said. “I feel needed, that’s for sure. I stay quite busy.
From the start, the villages were committed to keeping minds active, bodies healthy and souls intact, Ms McWhinney-Morse said. Her generation and beyond no longer see nursing homes as an inevitability, she said: “We’re not as aware or scared that, oh, you’re going to fall or forget your meds.”
This does not mean that the villages meet everyone’s needs. Many were started by white, middle-class neighbors and are still located in predominantly white, middle-class communities (an Asian-American village in Oakland, Calif., was successful; one for Latino members is in development in Winter Park, Florida). Ms. Sullivan said diversification efforts are underway. One is to bring the movement into broad ethnic and socio-economic contexts, such as churches.
Once established, villages do not always prosper. When they close, money is often the culprit. “Villages continue to have an uphill struggle with financial stability,” Ms. Sullivan said. Since 2012, 29 member villages have dissolved. Of these, six have closed since the start of the pandemic. Some cited money as the reason; others have stalled membership growth. A few have closed due to disputes over people’s vaccination status. Some villages that were starting to develop decided to wait until after the pandemic.