published: November 2019

Elders Living the Dream     

Part II:  At home in Living Wisdom Village

by Tom deMers

with Richard Sanderson

Living Wisdom Village, Elders Creating Community moves forward on many shoulders from the past. Ammi Kohn, Burt Wadman, Findley West, Vivia Lawson and Judy DeLuca are some of the former Board members who inspired the vision of aging safely and well within a supportive environment. Anything the current Board says or does must be framed with respect for those who have come before. Aging in Place is a universal dream of home which prevailed for them and for us today.

Home can be a family home to which an apartment is added for a senior family member. In some places, seniors are turning large houses with multiple bedrooms into homes with shared common spaces. The model which Living Wisdom Village (LWV) has chosen most closely resembles co-housing, multiple dwellings on a shared property that allows for both privacy and community. It can’t be better stated than our predecessors put it in an earlier brochure: “LWV aims to enhance the quality of life in a self-governed community where residents live wisely and respectfully with one another and the environment.” Today the current Board, of which Richard Sanderson and I are members, is working to make that vision a reality, a village centered in community where the beauty and serenity of the design enhances the quality of everyday life.

The residents of LWV will be seniors, folks 55 or older. This is a primary difference from traditional co-housing where residents are in the workforce and bringing home paychecks. As seniors or elders, LWV residents will be on fixed or limited incomes and without earning years ahead of them. For that reason, all models of Aging in Place depend upon sharing and thus lowering costs. “Communities of elders are often built with an emphasis on sharing a common infrastructure that can reduce normal costs related to set-up and usage fees of water, sewer, electricity and road construction by as much as 75%.” (Sanderson)

Another difference from co-housing is that the residents will not be asked to put up the costs of land purchase or construction. These funds will be raised with grant money from public sources and private foundations. Will a construction loan be necessary? How much money might be raised through local fundraising? Can the property achieve a zero-carbon footprint? Will the design include (can we afford) “smart home” technology such as automated wellness features? These are questions with which the current Board is grappling. There are many, many more.

In short, Crestone Peak Community Housing (CPCH) will own the land, build the dwelling units and rent them to community members. How many one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms, how many studios? Should some units include office spaces? A common laundry area is a big cost savings, but should some units have their own stackables? The questions abound, but housing designs and the layout of a property depend upon answers to questions like these. Form always follows function. Of course, the land from which this community rises is fundamental to everything. That search is ongoing.

In all this planning, CPCH is looking to empower elders. “By means of collaborative relationships and targeted investment of resources, we will be able to extend the personal and financial independence of residents and . . . reduce the need for premature entry into costly retirement homes and inappropriate placement into nursing facilities.” (Sanderson)

While our place is Living Wisdom Village, this Board,like those that preceded us, emphasizes the second part of our name, Elders Creating Community. The value of community as home, as an antidote to isolation and poor mental health, is well-articulated by former Board member and architect Burt Wadman.

“It is about having opportunities to give as well as receive care. It prevents helplessness. It gives us purpose and a feeling of well-being. Meaningless activity corrodes the human spirit, so having the opportunity to do things that we find meaningful is essential to human health. Community has the potential to create far more than an individual alone can create. Consequently, everyone’s quality of life is enhanced.”

Wadman’s thoughts are echoed by His Holiness the Dali Lama. “Happiness does not come from material things but rather from a deep, genuine concern for others’ happiness.”