By Mark McNease

As a follower of Philadelphia’s LGBT Elder Initiative, I noticed awhile back they were including events being held at Penn’s Village, a non-profit organization operated by and for residents of Center City Philadelphia. Penn’s Village is part of the Village-to-Village Network.

What is a Village? “Villages are membership-driven, grass-roots organizations that … coordinate access to affordable services including transportation, health and wellness programs, home repairs, social and educational activities, and other day-to-day needs enabling individuals to remain connected to their community throughout the aging process.”

Jane Eleey, Penn’s Village’s Executive Director, was kind enough to answer ‘6 Questions’ and provide more information about the organization and its mission. – Mark/Editor

MM: Penn’s Village was founded in 2008. Can you tell us a little about the Village and its history?

JE: I was not here at the beginning but like other villages, it was a grassroots effort started in a central Philadelphia neighborhood led by a resident who happened to have a background in health care.  She was a caring and dedicated individual who was very committed to helping her neighbors and was able to secure start-up funding from the state to create this innovative model as started in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

MM: You’re part of the Village to Village Network. What exactly is that, and was it your intention from the beginning to be part of the Network?

JE: I don’t know if it was our original intention, but every village and everyone contemplating developing a village should be a part of the network.  It is full of resources, support and connections and has taken leadership in the whole “movement”.

MM: What were some of the challenges in getting Penn’s Village up and running, and is there any advice you would give to anyone wanting to start a Village in their area?

JE: Join the Village to Village Network.  Think broadly and inclusively.  Get foundation or other community funders support if possible.  Get community partners

MM: Can you describe some of the benefits of membership in a Village, and specifically Penn’s Village?

JE: There are levels of membership (see our website).  There are many ways to connect – as a service recipient, a service-delivery volunteer, a contributor, a committee member, a participant in a workshop or other educational/social event and more…

MM: Given that I saw your events shared at LGBT Elder Initiative, how welcoming do you think the Villages are for LGBT older people and seniors?

JE: I think many villages are either already welcoming or figuring out how to be so.  Not everyone has been explicit about this.  We value our partnership with LGBT EI who is helping us be more conscientious about welcoming LGBT participants.  We have representation from EI on our Advisory Council and on our Communications Committee.

MM: Do the Villages primarily benefit urban dwellers, or are there Villages that serve rural communities?

JE: Villages are everywhere – they are in urban, suburban and rural communities, they may be in a specific high rise apartment building, they may be in a retirement community, they may be started by an already existing group such as a church or community association.

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