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At age 69, Petaluma resident Anne Greenblatt is one of a growing number of people who are retiring and preparing to face the many issues of aging. Many of them, like Greenblatt, want to care for themselves in their own homes, rather than live in a retirement home.

Inspired by a new nonprofit model for independent senior living that is catching on around the country, Greenblatt has started working with a handful of other seniors in the community, as well as local elder services groups, to explore how to make Petaluma an even better place to age.

"We're exploring the idea of building a safety net for a virtual community of people to be able to age in their own homes in the community, not building a residential complex," said Greenblatt. "We want to connect to existing services and keep contributing to the community."

Called Village to Village, the model that inspired Greenblatt was started in Boston about 10 years ago and provides aging residents with sustainable and affordable ways to grow old in their own homes and with maximum independence.

Through the model, seniors would create a nonprofit support group, called a "village," designed to provide a network of services to help them stay in their homes. A village may provide direct services or coordinate the services of any number of organizations to help with driving, medications, post-operative care, retrofitting homes to accommodate aging needs, or cope with any problems associated with aging.

One of the main services villages coordinate is vetting elder care providers to make sure they are legitimate and helpful to seniors.

Villages, which started in an affluent Boston community, are taking on many forms as they spread across the country and tend to be as different as the people who create them. They may require expensive, nominal, or no annual dues. They can be run by paid staff, volunteers, or a combination of both.

There are about 90 functioning "villages" around the country, with another 123 under development, according to the Village to Village website. Greenblatt, who retired two years ago, has been following the model for a while but was particularly inspired after attending a conference on the subject in Oakland last October.

"I got really inspired; I left wanting to work on this," she said. Now, the challenge is to see if such a model would be a good fit for Petaluma.

"We'll be doing presentations to community groups and setting up living room chats," Greenblatt said. "We want to find out what people feel they need, what needs are not being fulfilled in the community."

Greenblatt is working with a dozen other people, including Elece Hempel of Petaluma People Services Center, Don Streeper of the Senior Center, Connie Hammerman, and Stanton and Gabriella Lawson of Sequoia Senior Solutions, to work out the best approach to building such an organization. A Petaluma "village" could operate either as an independent nonprofit or under the umbrella of one of Petaluma's many existing social organizations.

While some villages depend on grants and outside funding, Greenblatt said the Petaluma goal is to "make our village financially self-supporting."

"We don't want to be dependent on grants that end," she said. "We do want to offer lower fees for lower income people, but we want to be self-supporting."

The Petaluma Village project meets on the third Wednesday of every month and anyone is welcome to participate in putting the organization together, a process that will take a year or more, Greenblatt said.

Meanwhile, Petaluma's move to create a "village" has already inspired a Napa resident to do the same in his community.

George Vare traveled from Napa to attend one of the early Petaluma meetings and is now working to set up a village project in his valley.

Anyone wanting to learn more about the project can visit petalumavillagenetwork.wordpress.com or call Anne Greenblatt at 772-5132.

You can learn more about the national program at www.vtvnetwork.org.

(Contact Jay Gamel at argus@arguscourier.com.)