My quest for community began with a push and a prod: I did not want to end up like my parents. I cared and watched over them in the best way that a grown daughter with a stressful life can, but eventually they died in a nursing home. I did not want to have anything to do with that way of aging alone and being warehoused.
At the time, I chose to end my 30-year corporate career. I did not have any children and I was divorced. I was like many of us. Whether we’ve raised children or did not have any, we reach a time in our lives when we are either left with our spouse or alone. The prospect of retirement doesn’t seem as much fun when a) you don’t want to retire and b) you start to consider how you will take care of yourself when the time comes and you do want to retire.
At this point I did see the silver lining… like many of us Boomers, my corporate life ended and I could now CHOOSE what I really wanted to do and pursue my passion (I wish the marketers could get this) and it wasn’t a hobby or traveling. Instead I would put my years of experience, wisdom, network of friends and contacts to work and pursue my vision. I’d spent many years talking to my friends about emulating the Golden Girls living arrangement and lifestyle. It was suddenly time to do something about it. No time to waste.
A Rocky Journey
I moved to Asheville, North Carolina with a male partner in 2006 after leaving my career in Human Resources in Silicon Valley. I was done with the corporate thing and wanted to live and breathe my passion. Asheville was the perfect place with its beauty full of retirees, passionate artists and progressiveness. I knew after only two visits this was the place for me. We both wanted to develop intentional communities for us as we age.
2007 was the first Women for Living in Community Conference in Asheville with over 100 women attending at the Center for Creative Retirement at UNC-Asheville (now known as OLLI – Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), a well-known destination for many investigating learning and aging.
I conducted workshops locally in 2009 and 2010 bringing together more women who wanted to live in community to meet, learn, and further the practical tools and knowledge for taking the next steps. My website and “Golden Girls” living arrangement brought NBC news to our house in November 2011 and numerous interviews and media attention to this trend. Potlucks, core groups, seminars and conferences helped hone my skills and knowledge of people and community.
There has been a great deal of experimentation. I owned 2 houses in a 3 house infill property for 3 years with the expressed purpose of a small community. I lived with another woman in her house for a brief time. Today, I live in a big house with three other women, all over the age of 45. I live in a neighborhood I would normally not be able to afford alone, with plenty of walking and only the sound of nature outside my window. I love every minute of it. The media continues to love this concept and asks for interviews and I love doing it to show there are alternative housing choices.
As I go forward into the future, there are many more chapters to this story. Finding my tribe and the place I can bring others to experience some of the things I have learned and to put down roots so our dream is a reality – the dream of forming a real model for aging in community.
The Future: A Dream Come True
My little village is close to town; I can walk to the coffee shop in about 5 minutes. The walk is flat and the sidewalks are wide. As I pass the quaint houses and shops I am thankful for my choice of this small berg. The four seasons give me what I missed in California, yet the mildness of the climate and the amazing Fall and Spring beauty makes my heart sing.
This place grew from a place I visited on my first visit to NC in 2005. I fell in love and knew if I found it once, I could find it again. It is a piece of property that had an existing house on it to use as the common house. We met here, envisioned more, and brought others into the fold here.
We could expand with time and money, effort and love and passion right here.
As I walk there are many people that I know along the way and it takes me some time to get to town. Others along the way inquire about the gardens at BettzPlayz and how things are coming along with our projects. Many of us in our community work and play in the gardens to help as well as stay fit and healthy at the same time. We are able to feed ourselves at our community meals and have much produce leftover to sell as a CSA locally. We all enjoy interacting with others through our CSA, whether it is in delivering the food or welcoming others to our place.
The community house buzzes with activity almost non-stop. We use it to offer workshops about our successful community and what we have learned about forming, norming and storming. The stories we can tell about our experiences brings back many memories and I love to hear the prospective from all assembled the the discussions that follow.
We can accommodate guests in our Community House and there is overflow in our community to welcome those who come, and to further their experience. Someday we will invite caregivers into our community to share that privilege. Our small village of 13 small cottages, like Ross Chapin models, couldn’t be cuter and more easy and lovely in spirit and feeling. The flat terrain, that allows us to visit each other easily and the use of Universal Design adds to our ease of living we all desired.
Also part of the community is our Green House, made known by Dr. Bill Thomas as an alternative to the current care models but that function as our “Turquoise” House until we are ready to move towards the need for more assistance. In the interim, those who desire those accommodations are welcome to rent those spaces and be part of the community until the right time arises and we convert it.
Along with our small cottage neighborhood, we are within ¼ mile of a large house that allows those wanting that experience to live together and share their living space to have it in our community. With private space, including two rooms and a bath to give privacy, they share the large open kitchen and living area welcome all to share.
This is but a small portion of the dream and only the beginning. The process is continual and the additions are rich.