Stepping Forward To Gain Traction: Spotlight on Beth Burnside
by Karin Evans,
Ashby Village Volunteer
If there’s anyone around Ashby Village these days who exemplifies the qualities of leadership, it’s Beth Burnside, Professor Emerita of Cell and Developmental Biology and retired Vice Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley. Currently a member of the Ashby Village Leadership Team for 2014, Beth is devoting her considerable experience and energy to finding fresh ways to keep Ashby Village vital and viable. She’s no stranger to challenges. While at the University, she oversaw the reorganization of the Life Sciences Department and went on to streamline administrative procedures for science researchers. Once retired, she was looking for a different kind of involvement.
Beth found Ashby Village a few years ago after reading an AARP article that explored the village movement taking root across the U.S. “I thought, this is such a good idea,” she recalls. “It was also timely for me because I live alone, and it appealed to me to join people who wanted to have that kind of community. I wondered at the time whether there might be something like that in Berkeley.” A year went by and Beth received an email describing the mission and goals of Ashby Village. “I thought, ah, there is one in Berkeley. I immediately asked for the forms and joined up.”
Once a member, it took Beth no time to get to work. “I felt very passionately about the village’s mission,” she recalls. She took the volunteer training, became a major donor, and got involved with organizational aspects. Like other villages, Beth points out, Ashby Village faces challenges--how to offer the needed services, keep the fees down, and make it all work. “The aim for Ashby Village this year is to get traction,” she says.
Beth currently chairs the Ashby Village Neighborhood Group Council. “I have primarily been trying to get these neighborhood groups alive, starting with the Kensington one, working with Betty Webster. We get together once a month to figure out ways to help the groups thrive and get them started where no one has stepped up to be a coordinator. People from groups that are already active are volunteering to make themselves available to others who want to start up.” Right now, the team is looking for people to head up the neighborhood groups in North Berkeley and in the Elmwood.
It can be a challenge sometimes to find people to take the lead, Beth admits. “People are often tired of responsibilities and don’t want to necessarily take on new ones.” But she will be the first to say that the rewards of jumping in can far outweigh the amount of work involved. Plus she still has time to engage in the artwork she always wanted to do but had postponed when she was working at the University. She also wants to keep a hand in her science research, which casts light on the mysteries of sight and the prevention of blindness.
“I have very much enjoyed my involvement with Ashby Village,” Beth says. “The Village gathers together a remarkable group of people. It’s an amazing organization, and I must say I have been quite in awe of how effective it is, and the fact that it runs mostly with volunteers. I am awestruck by the dedication and sophistication of the Board. They have really good people who know a lot about what they are doing, and it is very generous of them to be so dedicated. I haven’t met anyone I haven’t liked, and that’s not something you can say about too many groups!”
How Rewarding it is to Just Give of Yourself: Profile of Volunteer Jimmy Baker
by Karin Evans,
Ashby Village Volunteer
Jimmy Baker has carted books, walked dogs, ordered ferry tickets, watered plants, and done a lot of listening in the course of his volunteer work for Ashby Village. But he’s wise enough to say no to some jobs, electrical work, for instance or lengthy excursions to Costco. "I know my limitations," says Baker, with a chuckle.
"I heard about Ashby Village around four years ago," says Baker, now one of the Village’s most active volunteers. "I had just moved from San Francisco to a second home in Oakland when I saw a segment about Ashby Village on the local TV news. I liked the village concept, I loved the idea of community, and I thought volunteer work would be a good way to give back. So I decided to contact them."
Baker’s first task for a Village member was helping a woman downsize her book collection. "She was consolidating. On my first visit, I took the books down off the shelves for her, and then she spent a few days going through them. I came back later to help re-shelve the ones she wanted to keep, and take others to the bookstore for her.
"I was a little nervous on that first visit," Baker admits, "but once I got into it, my whole anxiety about going into someone’s home, or wondering how they would react to my efforts, was all released. It was very easy. From that very first day, I enjoyed volunteering so much that I now do it twice weekly, and fill in on other days when I can."
A native of Decatur, Georgia, Baker had lived in San Francisco for some 30 years before crossing the Bay to Oakland. He still works full time in the city as a senior business analyst for Experian, a major credit reporting agency. "I can’t retire just yet," he says, but with the full support of his company, he spends what time he can helping out with Ashby Village requests. By now he has several "regulars," members he sees weekly.
Baker meets with one woman every Wednesday. "I just walk in and say, ‘What do you need for me to do today?’ She usually has a long list." On Friday, he visits another member and walks her dog. "But I am there to help in any way that I can," he says. Recently, he helped her buy some tickets online so she could take the ferry to the Giants game. And always, on any visit, Baker spends some time just chatting.
"I know I am the eyes and ears of Ashby Village, to make sure everybody is doing okay at home," he says. "I find that people like that, that they feel reassured that someone is coming to their homes to check in and talk with them." For Baker, it is sheer pleasure. "I just love talking with the people. I have always enjoyed history, and I love hearing the stories, about the Bay Area and how it has changed. I have seen a lot of change in 30 years, but they have seen so much more. I get some living history."
Experian, Baker’s employer, not only encourages its employees to volunteer for good causes, it offers financial donations to the organization involved. "If I do 50 hours of service, they give $500 to the nonprofit," explains Baker. So far, his time spent helping members has resulted in a donation of more than $2000 to Ashby Village. "I just keep an Excel spread sheet of my hours, and submit the request for the company to give matching funds. Experian is very much into encouraging its employees to do volunteer work, and community service around the world. I am so thrilled that my organization supports this." Baker says it's his impression that more and more companies are beginning to offer similar encouragement and support to employees who do volunteer work.
"I have really grown to realize how rewarding it is to just give of yourself," says Baker. "We humans get this nice feeling when we give, whether time or money, when we are just helping another individual. People are so appreciative. Every single time when I am leaving, the members say, 'Thank you so much for coming by.' I get so much joy from the people I work with."
Coordinating Mutual Support on a Cul de Sac
by Hilary Lorraine,
Ashby Village Member and Volunteer
Several years ago, two people on a little cul de sac in Kensington joined Ashby Village and they then encouraged others on their street to join. Now there are six households who as members of the Village provide volunteer assistance to each other.
When one of them needs a ride, they contact the office and their request is posted on the general email request list. This alerts a volunteer who lives on the cul de sac, is usually are able to respond.
This Ashby Village coordinated mutual support system allows neighbors to help each other when they can, but when not, to draw on the larger volunteer pool. This street-based mutual support group is now beginning to expand to include people who attend the Village sponsored monthly lunches.
This creative member-initiated use of Ashby Village will now provide a model for spreading it to other neighborhood groups in the Village.
Introvert Goes to the AV Potluck
by Mary Graham,
Ashby Village Volunteer
I'm not shy, but I am an introvert. I'd rather not mingle with large groups of people. Yet, as a new volunteer, I found myself looking forward to the Village's holiday potluck. Where would it fit on the continuum of 4-H and church potlucks that I remembered from my small home town?
As I came in, the band was warming up and the tables looked festive with fresh flowers and two kinds of water. The staff and event volunteers had been busy! I dropped off my casserole and headed for the book-exchange table. Hilary seemed to be in charge, and we visited over the music. She gave me a great tip: Mack's Pillow Soft ear plugs block movie and airplane noise. People were dropping off lots of books. I asked one guy how he could part with a vintage E.B. White volume. "I'm divesting," he said cheerfully, "I try to get rid of something every week."
Standing in line to sample the dozens of main dish and salad offerings, a volunteer named Roger gave me another great tip: San Francisco State University offers summer courses out of Sierra City on Highway 49. I know that part of the Sierra well, and can imagine spending a week at a summer camp for grown-ups. For an introvert, visiting one-to-one is ideal, and I struck up a conversation with Joan G. An ideal dinner companion, Joan is a voluble Village member and a long-time Kensington resident. We chatted about her positive experience with the Village staff and volunteers, and we agreed that the Inn Kensington biscuits have been delicious for 25 years.
When Andy Gaines began to speak, it was like herding cats to quiet everyone in the room—people just couldn't stop visiting. Then the band began its second set, and this introvert realized her social stamina was running low. As I slipped out, I felt a positive glow—I was becoming part of this new Village.
National Village Volunteer of the Year Nominee: Tom Boyden
by Kristina Holland,
Ashby Village Member and Volunteer
As Tom tells it, he began volunteering for Ashby Village when his all-knowing wife announced to him that he "couldn't retire unless he found some place to volunteer at least eight hours a week" and then directed him to Ashby Village. That was three years ago.
From that first meeting, he was smitten, signing up to answer phones and give rides. After a few weeks he began taking on the role of everything from handyman to computer guru (for the office as well as for members), chauffeur to MedPal mentor, e-mail recruiter to outreach ambassador. Tom quickly worked his way up to a regular schedule of five days a week, opening the office at 8, welcoming staff at 9 and "clocking out" at noon.
Tom really has found his calling as the "go-to guy" on hard-to-fill and last-minute assignments where "getting to Yes" is imperative, and as the indispensable follow-up caller whose warmth and natural love of people inspire prospective members to join the Village and reassure new members that this is the place where they belong.
Tom says he misses the early handyman experiences that so often touched him deeply. These days he finds equal pleasure in spending most of his time in the office--on the computer, making sure every member's needs are met; on the phone, enlisting last-minute help and arranging connections with the community; on a ladder, or on his back, wrestling tangled under-desk computer connections into miraculous working order.
As the staff member puts it, Tom wears so many hats at Ashby Village it would simply be impossible to replace him. And, luckily, it sounds like that won't be necessary. Tom says this is "the best work experience of my life," and he plans to keep on doing it..."until I can't."
National Village Photo Contest Finalist
by Peter Sussman,
Ashby Village Member
When we think of villages, we don't always envision older people tracking the paths of hawks through a redwood forest, but in Ashby Village they do.
Ashby Village helps connect its diverse members through communal events, of course, but also - and every bit as important - through members' shared individual interests, in small groups initiated and shaped by members to reflect those interests. Through its newsletter, website and recent "Interest Faire" barbecue, our village assists members in finding others who share their passions, among them bridge, modern poetry, knitting, photography, computers, painting and - among the earliest and most popular of the interest groups - nature walks.
Audre and Roger Newman, world-traveling nature lovers, suggested the nature walks and have been energetic organizers of the group ever since.
|Audre & Roger Newman with Irene Marcos (left)
The Newmans - shown here with Irene Marcos in one of our resplendent regional parks - have led walks through many of the natural wonders that encircle the urban core of our membership area, from a bird migration walk in a local marsh to a fern walk in a redwood forest and a wildflower walk in a hillside park, among others.
Guest experts often serve as guides; one, a naturalist and gerontologist, led a tour through a park built on landfill, explaining not only the natural features but the park's historical and ecological context, including how methane gas is systematically released from the garbage dump on which the park was built.
Sometimes, prospective members join in the walks, forming friendships with current members who share their interests and sampling the pleasures of joining Ashby Village. The group's walks often end with the reading of a nature poem or, in one case, an essay on the pleasures of sauntering - as opposed to hiking - in natural surroundings. Afterward, the hiker/saunterers often like to share a lunch, deepening bonds formed on the trail.
At the end of one walk, a member read a poem by William Wordsworth celebrating daffodils. One of the walkers reported in our member newsletter: "It was a foggy day at Inspiration Point, prompting each of us to feel as if we had 'wandered ... as a cloud,' as the poem says. We enjoyed the incomparable beauty of Tilden [Park] and shared thoughts, memories, and good conversation along the path. This richness of nature and of friendship continues each month."
None Too Early
by Bob Davis,
Ashby Village Board Member
My wife, Merle, and I were in our 80s when we attended our first Ashby Village Living Room Chat. It was 2009 and there were only about 30 members. It all seemed too good to be true.
Ashby Village Board Member
We were doing fine on our own at the time. But because we live in the Berkeley Hills where we can’t rely on public transportation, we knew the day might come when we couldn’t get out and drive ourselves to wherever we needed or wanted to go. Everything about Ashby Village seemed so right, so we decided to join then, before we needed assistance. That way, if something happened so that we couldn’t keep our cherished dream of aging together in our hillside home, we’d be prepared. Neither of us believed that time would come so soon.
Since joining Ashby Village, I have been a member of the board as well as an active volunteer. I have driven people to medical appointments, taken them shopping, and sat through an evening with a member whose husband underwent abdominal surgery. I was, to quote Joan Diamond, "Paying forward for services I might need later." In 2012, payback became a reality.
Ashby Village Member
On Jan. 23, I had ankle replacement surgery at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco. Because my right ankle was in a cast, I couldn’t drive. Merle and I were stranded at home and dependent on others for all of our transportation needs. Naturally, I turned to Ashby Village for help, and they came through for me. I needed transportation to San Francisco to have a new cast put on and, six weeks later, to remove it. Merle needed rides to the store so we could replenish our food supplies. There were trips to rehabilitation to assist in my recovery, follow-up medical appointments at Richmond Kaiser, and there may be more still to come.
The volunteer services we received have been exemplary. All of the volunteers who helped us have been punctual, friendly, and helpful. They load my wheelchair into and out of their cars and push me to my appointments, wait for me, and then drive me home. I have offered remuneration, but they would have none of that. How could volunteer services be any better? Joining Ashby Village was one of the best decisions we ever made and, as it turned out, none too early.
Our thanks go to Ashby Village and its wonderful corps of volunteers.
Jumping Around & Kicking up Her Heels
by Josephine Rand,
Ashby Village Member
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the first Ashby Village Creative Movement class led by Andy Gaines, Executive Director. I do hope that these classes become a regular event. I enjoyed going for a number of reasons. I thought that it was an excellent way to get to know some of my fellow Ashby Village members.
We played a game where we used movements and our names, and even though normally I have a tough times remembering names, I learned the names of most all of the people in the class.
I confess that I have not been getting any exercise at all recently. I have wanted to start, but I would feel woefully inadequate were I to join a movement class for the general public. Undoubtedly, I would get embarrassed and stop going to class. Although I hate to admit it, I have done just that in the past. However, Andy set up the activities so that people of all levels of activity could join in. We could participate as vigorously or as easily as we felt comfortable doing. And best of all, I felt like a child getting to play. We had structure, but we also had a lot of latitude with our movements.
I felt as if I were a little girl jumping around and kicking up her heels. Of course, I wasn’t able to do that for very long. But if these classes continue I will surely become stronger and more limber in time. And I will continue to be able to feel this joy that comes with moving freely and without inhibition.
Prepared to Spend the Night
by Carloyn North,
Ashby Village Member
"One Friday morning, my husband Herb was having some strange symptoms, so we went to the Kaiser emergency room, where they examined him and said he needed surgery later that day.
|Herb & Carolyn North
Ashby Village Members
At that point the doctors couldn't say if Herb's condition was routine or life-threatening. We waited all day in the ER for surgery, and at the end of the day I took a break to go home for some rest and a bite to eat. Once home, I realized I should not be alone for the surgery. It was a Friday night, and on such short notice, I couldn’t find a friend to accompany me. Our family lives across the country. Then I remembered Ashby Village, and called for help.
"Within the hour I got a call from volunteers Bob and Merle Davis, who picked me up and drove me to the hospital. They waited with me for three hours, until we got the good news that Herb was fine and could go home the next day. Bob and Merle drove me home and told me graciously that they had been prepared to spend the night with me if necessary. We had never met before; we have not seen each other since. But they probably saved my life that night – or my heart, at least – and I will be grateful to them forever. Not to mention Ashby Village, which makes such encounters possible."
Managing Unexpected Life Transitions
by Bob Forthman,
Ashby Village Member
The last year and a half has been a time of profound change for me. I cannot express with enough gratitude how valuable Ashby Village has been in assisting me to navigate several major life transitions.
In July of 2010, my wife Lynn and I joined Ashby Village. We had heard that it was designed to assist and support people who are aging to continue to live independently in their homes, and we were hoping to volunteer to help others. We never imagined that we would be the ones who would actually be calling for support – and soon.
One month after we joined, Lynn was struck by a hit-and-run driver in West Berkeley.
Ashby Village Member
She was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries (five shattered ribs). Needless to say, I was stunned. When confronted by the deluge of questions from the hospital staff regarding how to address her care, I called Ashby Village. Immediately, several volunteers, including a geriatric social worker who serves as an ombudsman from Ashby Village, came to assist and support me in making choices and managing her health care. The issues were many and complex:
- I needed to know what my rights were as a husband.
- The hospital was pressuring me to release her immediately (they needed the bed), and they were going to send her to the lowest-grade nursing home in the East Bay (because it always had empty beds).
- I was being pressured to agree to her release and transfer.
- With the guidance of the volunteers, I was able to slow down the process for a day by refusing to sign any papers unless they released her to Alta Bates Hospital.
- Without the support of the volunteers, I would probably have caved in to the three doctors and top administrators who wanted that bed money.
With the help of our 'support team,' Lynn was released to return home following a very short stay in the hospital.
Over the next several weeks, Lynn received in-home care from an organization referred to us by Ashby Village. They were wonderful. Lynn’s health seemed to be improving, and all appeared well … until one morning, without notice, Lynn went into the bathroom and dropped dead. "I was in a state of shock. Lynn and I had spent 60 happy years together, but we had no family living nearby. Suddenly, there were so many things to deal with and choices to make. It was like facing a machine gun. Once again, Ashby Village came forward to help. On the day she died, three board members came to be with me, bring food and help guide me through that traumatic time. They were my lifeline.
Over the next many weeks, Ashby Village volunteers helped me write Lynn's obituary; find a venue for, and plan, her memorial; find a rabbi to officiate. One of their committee members, with a friend, helped me to evaluate my own unexpected housing needs, and when I realized it was no longer safe for me to drive between our house in the hills and downtown Berkeley, they helped me relocate to a smaller, more manageable home near the University.
I am incredibly grateful for the help and support Ashby Village provided me in my times of need. I continue to look for ways I can give back, supporting others facing the challenges – and also the joys – of growing older.
On Our First Birthday
by Elaine Hooker Jackson
Five years ago, longtime Berkeley neighbors and friends Pat Sussman and Shirley Haberfeld read an article about Beacon Hill Village in Boston, and the idea resonated. Their mutual enthusiasm led to numerous sidewalk conversations and ultimately culminated in the founding of Ashby Village.
Shirley and Pat at Yasai Market
where the conversation began
The issue that captivated them was summed up in another context by Geoff Hoyle in his popular one-man show, "Geezer": "Who will take care of us besides us?"
The Beacon Hill model - creating a community organization to enable members to remain in their homes as they age - has spawned more than 50 such villages across the country. Hundreds of similar organizations, from villages to "naturally occurring retirement communities," are in various stages of development, and the villages now actively share ideas and strategies.
This month, Ashby Village celebrates its first year of full operation, and by all measures it's wildly successful: a 95 percent renewal rate, higher than Beacon Hill's; double the number of members it had at launch, making it one of the fastest-growing villages in the country; a 70 percent return rate on a member survey; and most important, satisfied members who count on being one phone call away from getting help. That help could take many forms, some of them not yet articulated. A few of the more frequent requests have been for a ride to the doctor's office, a handyman's skilled assistance, a dinner delivered during a health crisis. Members also say they join for the social events and personal connections.
Susan McWhinney-Morse, one of Beacon Hill Village's founders, has said, "I often think that what gets older people down about living in their own homes are the little things. ... Who's going to change the light bulb on top of my stairwell? Who's going to fix the leaky faucet?"
Pat and Shirley get teary-eyed when they talk about it. They've known each other since before Shirley was a mother; her oldest daughter, Sarah, is now 36. But their friendship deepened over the countless hours they spent nurturing Ashby Village.
"We have given birth to something, and we had no idea we were pregnant," Shirley said.
Pat, a former hospice director, healthcare administrator and, at the time, consultant, had long worked with LifeLong Medical Care, a group of community health centers that now serves as Ashby Village's fiscal agent. Shirley retired in 2009 as an educational psychologist for K-12 schools. Her retirement spurred Ashby Village into the intense planning stages, 18 months before our operational launch.
The two co-founders marvel at the people they’ve met, the talent and commitment so many have brought to the cause. They recruited eight people who began meeting monthly. The meetings evolved to two or three times a week; the numbers swelled.
"In the past year, so many more stepped up to the plate in so many ways," Pat said.
"We kept stumbling onto things. Someone came up with something that would take us to the next level," Shirley added.
They credit Ted Roszak, author of "The Making of an Elder Culture," with pushing them to expand the village beyond the neighborhood of the original planners. Roszak, who died recently, was an early advocate for the village movement, and he and his wife, Betty, became charter members of Ashby Village. Roszak wrote in his book, "As the longevity revolution unfolds, senior villages will become one of the distinctive social inventions of our time."
Andra Lichtenstein "kicked us up another notch," Pat said. In the words of Executive Director Andy Gaines, Andra is one of the "three strong women" who work with him on the Executive Committee.
Jane Selby, another friend and neighbor of the cofounders, was a key participant in the original eight-member board. She has just moved temporarily to Washington, D.C., after her husband, Joe, was appointed to a central position in planning the future of healthcare. The Selbys retain their commitment to Ashby Village and plan to move back to their Berkeley home in a few years.
Feisty professional women are the movers behind most of the villages, author Gail Sheehy wrote in a USA Today article on the village movement. She quoted Ashby Village board member Bob Davis as saying that women are the ones who see the value of socialization.
Both Pat and Shirley now feel that the structure supports itself. "It's not all on our shoulders," Pat said. "Every idea anyone brings to the board, they're all looked at equally," and they've received many important contributions from the membership. There's no ego involved, Pat said, no "founders' syndrome."
Anxiety over membership renewals - needless, as it turned out - caused them to focus on the concept of sustainability. Two highly regarded retired UC Berkeley professors and administrators, Bill Webster and Steve Lustig, will head a sustainability task force to help chart Ashby Village's course for the future. Both are Village members.
Shirley and Pat at the
New Year's Holiday gathering
Pat and Shirley already have strong ideas about some of the directions Ashby Village should take: broaden the volunteer base, particularly to include more people of various ages; broaden services based on what members say they need; increase diversity among members; expand institutional partnerships; double the membership base to more than 340 within two years; offer subsidized memberships, with the help of grants. Membership fees alone won't cover the cost.
Coincidentally, Village to Village Network, an umbrella organization of existing and fledgling villages, will hold its national conference this November in Oakland. "We asked them to make the theme sustainability," Shirley said.
The urgency of the theme has been underlined by Candace Baldwin, co-director of the Village to Village Network. As she told SeniorResourceGuide.com:
"When you think about the fact that by 2032, there will be more people over 65 than people under 15, we have no time to lose in getting sustainable villages in place."
A Tribute to Ted
As many of you know, our dear friend and fellow Ashby Village member, Ted Roszak, died on July 5, 2011. As one of the pioneers and deep thinkers in the movement of redesigning our lives as we age, Ted, was a vital part of catapulting Ashby Village from a small neighborhood organization to one that included all of Berkeley and many surrounding communities. His big thinking and his passion for the Village movement was contagious. His heart and soul were evident at every committee meeting and every Living Room Chat where he and his lovely wife, Betty, were always present to encourage others to reach out and grab onto the village movement — supporting one another in our communities as we age.
If you were fortunate enough to have had a conversation with Ted, you would have heard him emphasize the point that the Village movement could only exist if the current elders used that same energy and ebullience of the Boomer generation to spearhead alternative ways to age in their communities. "My own hope is that the boomers-the best educated, most widely traveled, most innovative generation we have ever seen-are not too frivolous to face the dilemmas of longevity. On the contrary, I believe they will in growing numbers as the years unfold, recognize that the making of an elder culture is the great task of our time, a project that can touch life's later years with nobility and intellectual excitement." While Ted realized it was pushing the rock up the hill, he was confident that the elder culture of today could do this. And furthermore, he viewed this movement toward aging in our homes or in our communities not just for current elders, but creating new structures for our children and our children's children. His book The Making of An Elder Culture
was an eloquent call to arms.... if not us, then who?
Ted's enthusiasm for Ashby Village was present to the very end of his life. At his bedside days before his death, Ted was still talking about the virtues of Villages. He was a great contributing member to Ashby Village in its infancy and, fortunately, was able toward the end of his life to see Ashby Village take shape and also to be there for him as his illness progressed.
We want to thank Ted for his contributions to Ashby Village, for his forward and big thinking, for his passion and for his humor and wit throughout the challenge of forming Ashby Village from the grassroots upward. We owe so much to him and we will miss his presence and his unconditional encouragement and for rodding to us think big.
Our sincere condolences go to his wife, Betty and his daughter, Kathryn and his grand-daughter, Lucy. These three women always brought smiles of love and pride to Ted when he spoke of them.
For details of Ted's rich background and literary contributions, please see articles in the July 13th edition of the SF Chronicle
and the New York Times
. His book, The Making of an Elder Culture
is available and highly recommended for Ashby Village members. A copy is available to check out at the Ashby Village office.
by Tom Boyden,
Ashby Village Volunteer
I got a call from Irene about two weeks ago. She wanted to know if I would accept an assignment to repair a table for Elivia, an Ashby Village member of two or three months. I was already quite busy that week, so I asked Irene if she would try for another volunteer. I suppose it was a sense of guilt that motivated me to email Irene two days later. When she said she had not been able to find anybody else, I said I would do it.
I called Elivia on the phone, and we set up the following Wednesday for me to come take a look. The following Wednesday it was raining, so we postponed the job one week until December 15th, the next weekday I had free. I had been to her house once before, to change some halogen lights that were too high for her to reach. And while Elivia is quite mobile, she can no longer climb ladders. So I knew how beautiful her house and its surroundings were going in. Her husband, who had passed away this past July 4, was an architect, and had restructured and remodeled the Kensington house in the most beautiful and gorgeous ways. His affinity for Japanese architecture and culture was evident to me throughout. I only learned later that he had designed and built the outdoor table I was about to fix.
The table was nothing like what I had imagined. It is a circle close to 8 feet in diameter, only about a foot off the ground. Its top is made of 1 x 4 pieces of redwood, supported in part by a circular fascia, made of three strips of redwood, laminated together. Several weeks earlier, a tree company had come to Elivia's house to fell a large redwood tree, maybe ten feet from the table. When the tree fell, it hit the right side of the table, breaking one of the 1 x 4's, and splitting the fascia along 40% of its circumference. After thinking it over a while, I asked Elivia what she thought about gluing the fascia back together, instead of ordering a matching curved piece (the price of which still staggers my imagination). She said fine, and I thought to myself that if it doesn't work we would be no worse off than we were at the present time.
So I got in my truck, drove home to get all of my clamps, bought a large bottle of gorilla glue, and returned to Elivia's house. On my way back, as I realized that I was going to be able to fix the table, I was overcome by an urge to call my former place of work, and say to my friends there something like, "I'm so sorry you guys are still stuck there. I know you are still being forced to do (economically) hurtful things to your clients, while I get to have this supreme privilege of actually helping people out for a change. Of course, I'm not getting paid for it, but that is more than ok with me—I'm retired and I'm a volunteer!". I never did make the call, but I can still feel the happiness of that moment.
When I got back to Elivia's with my six clamps and the bottle of gorilla glue, she told me, "Just let me know when you are about twenty minutes from being finished, and I will start on lunch." I said, "You don't have to make me lunch—that's not necessary at all." But she insisted, so I started to work.
Everything went according to plan, and as I was about to put a new 1 x 4 on top to finish off the job, I let Elivia know I had about 20 minutes to go. After washing up, I was astonished to find a huge (and very delicious) salad, a piece of chicken, a potato and two pieces of bread waiting for me on her dining room table! She started to leave the room, and I asked 'where are you going?' Elivia said something like not wanting to intrude, and I said 'no, please stay!'.
Elivia had placed a piece of paper on the table for me to read while having lunch. It was her husband's obituary, which she herself had written only month's before. She asked me what I had done before retiring. I told her I had worked for the Recreation Department at the City of Orinda. She told me she had spent the past ten years caring for her husband. She said don't ever think that is a complaint; I would give anything to have ten more years to care for him. A lot of women don't have good husbands, but I did. Please don't ever fight with your wife. Please, try only to make each other happy. You know, my husband designed and built the table you just fixed. We used to sit there in the moonlight. That is why this is very exciting for me.
Psychological and Veritable Safety Net
by Joan Cole,
Ashby Village Member
My husband and I joined Ashby Village, excited by the concept and eager to discover what it might have to offer. We are unaccustomed to asking for help of this kind. My husband had broken his hip and was facing a very slow recovery and some cognitive challenges, and we were determined to remain in our home! When we rebuilt, following the Oakland Hills fire storm, we announced to our family that it was our wish to be here until our last breaths. "They should plan on carrying us out". Well, that may or may not be possible, but the safety net that Ashby Village provides makes it far more likely that this intention will come to pass.
In the past months since we joined, my husband's wish to complete a memoir has been made possible by an amazing woman who is volunteering to help him finish work that he can no longer complete on is own. When I asked Andy to help us find someone who might work with Bob, he put some Ashby Village volunteers to work finding an appropriate person for the job. Michelle McGuinness now comes once a week and we have together crafted a form that works for Bob, and that promises completion of the project. An oral history, which will likely be transcribed into written form as well, is well underway. Michelle arrives with her Smart Phone and is videotaping stories which Bob will soon present to our family. This is incredibly satisfying to both of us, and we are so grateful to Ashby Village for finding Michelle and to the time she is donating to his work.
The other service that Ashby Village has provided me is a personal assistant who is helping me with my desk and organizational work. She comes as needed, is lovely, helps me get rid of "stuff' and is a delight to work with.
Our overall challenge with Ashby Village is to think in terms of what we need and how the Village can provide it. It requires thinking outside the box and I trust that over time we will get better at that. As we move into the New Year we hope to be part of this movement which holds so much promise for many of us who are staunchly independent and are now in a stage of life where that fierce autonomy is no longer a viable way to live. The mere existence of the Village, and the marvelous sense of community that is growing around it, has created a psychological and veritable safety net for which we are extremely grateful!