The old rules of aging offered the elderly three choices: move someplace warm, move close to the kids, or move into an assisted-living facility.
These options had something in common: They all involved moving. But many senior citizens don't want to leave the home and community they've known and loved. "The whole bill of goods about being old, that you are a little bit useless and that you've done your thing and checked out your brain at 65, this is a terrible image of aging," says 81-year-old Susan McWhinney-Morse, who recently returned home from a tour of archeological digs in Iran. "We just felt that everything was wrong about how older people were treated."
So in 1999, McWhinney-Morse and a group of Bostonians sought to change this image of aging. The group wanted to devise a strategy to allow them to remain in their homes while not burdening adult children or friends. Financially, they did not want to develop a program so expensive that it would exclude lower-income or middle-class people from joining. They spent a few years researching ideas, putting together a business plan, and raising seed money.
In 2002, they opened the Beacon Hill Village, a nonprofit network of senior citizens. For an annual fee ranging from $110 to $975, depending on income and household size, members have access to free exercise classes and social clubs, a community of like-minded seniors, and a small but dedicated professional staff that can arrange for services a member might need, such as a ride to the supermarket, nursing help, and recommendations for handymen, plumbers, and computer geeks. It's like having access to a concierge who understands the needs of the elderly. Members pay the vendor directly for the services they use.