Valarie Bush was introduced to the Aging-in-Place Village Movement by a friend and had the opportunity to serve on the board of Sierra Foothills Village
in Nevada County, California, just as it was forming. She began by helping create a plan to launch the Village so they could educate and attract members to the services that the village would offer. To start, they offered 10 pilot users a free membership while they explored how best to serve the needs of their community. Then the world experienced a historic event, a global pandemic.
Valarie took on the role of Executive Director of Sierra Foothills Village in Nevada County, California just as the organization entered its first active year. They were using another platform to manage their Village, and while the site was simple to use, it lacked many necessary features. Integrations and add-ons were either problematic or non-existent, and the first few formative months were difficult due to inconsistent customer support. Valarie started looking for a new solution and found RunMyVillage
Within a week, Valarie built her own website using RMV and her board was immediately convinced. Not only was it less expensive than their current website, but they would be able to retire many of their old ways of doing things, like managing donor spreadsheets, a merchant account to process credit cards, and a separate email service. Valarie wanted a sharp website that drew people in, so she looked at other RMV websites for inspiration and was able to use RMV templates as a starting point. With some help from the RMV support staff, Valarie was able to build out her website, and even make suggestions to our developers along the way.
The needs of her county were apparent but starting a Village from scratch required a little education.
Nevada County is comprised of several charming communities full of culture, with a population of 100,000, over half of whom are over the age of fifty. Being a rural community makes their needs somewhat unique, as they do not have access to a lot of transportation, nor do they have a community center. The needs of her county were apparent but starting a Village from scratch required a little education. Community members were confused by the Village concept. They mistook it for a physical neighborhood, as opposed to a conceptual one. Having in-person events to educate people would not be an issue, but the pandemic made this typical task a bit more challenging. A website to draw users in and educate them became increasingly important.
They also used community ties to advertise the Village. While picturesque, Nevada County sits in an area susceptible to wildfires and rolling power outages. Valarie began speaking at community events in her role as Executive Director to educate community members on safety issues and used each event as an opportunity to showcase the Village and their services. They were able to get additional members and volunteers using these preparedness classes.
Soon, they began hosting their own emergency preparedness courses, inviting users to register online where they would have a chance to explore the Sierra Foothills Village website and learn even more about the Village. She made instructional videos to add to the website, for example packing a go-bag on her living room coffee table using items she already had in her home.
The pandemic was an opportunity to further educate residents on how to plan to stay at home for long stretches of time in the event stores are closed or inaccessible. For community members who found the task daunting, they would assign volunteers to help.
The pandemic has inhibited some of the services they are able to provide but has also forced them to rethink their mission. Valarie wants Sierra Foothills Village to be a virtual community, where members can build relationships, especially in periods of social distancing and isolation. Something as simple as a friendly phone call can make a huge difference to member’s health and wellbeing. Checking in with members, Valarie found that some need help grocery shopping and others needed help configuring their television. Another member was able to reconnect with colleagues using Zoom with a little technical help. Each service provided by the Village offers an opportunity to build a relationship and combat loneliness.
While the start was trying, the challenges they faced only served to highlight the reasons Sierra Foothills Village was so important to the community. In the coming months, Valarie hopes to increase member engagement, boost their number of volunteers and emphasize the relationship-building aspects of Village programs.