Written by Peg Moline
An oft-quoted African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise
a child.” But all ages benefit when community members care about
and look out for one another. This concept fuels an idea called the Village
Movement—a predominantly volunteer-driven effort designed to help
seniors remain in their homes and communities while preserving their independence
More than 260 villages exist across the country with at least 80 more actively
being formed. Each has its own character and approach, based on the needs
and desires of the people it serves. All have the common goal of helping
members age in a place of their choosing and remain closely connected
with their communities.
The general model involves members receiving services, such as transportation,
help with minor household tasks and opportunities to socialize—all
made possible through volunteers who provide these services. Members pay
an annual fee to support administrative expenses, including background
checks and bonding of volunteers.
The South Bay boasts two villages: the Palos Verdes Peninsula Village and
the Torrance-headquartered South Bay Village. The nearby Westside Pacific
Village serves El Segundo and communities to the north.
South Bay Village: Services and Socials
Executive director Ghislaine (Ges) Davis and others launched the South
Bay Village in May 2015. While serving on Torrance’s Commission
on Aging, Davis heard a speaker discuss the village concept.
“It was like a light bulb going off. I realized we’ve got to
do this,” she says. “I’ve always felt we as a population
do not do enough for our seniors.”
The South Bay Village focuses on services including providing transportation
to doctor appointments, errands and other destinations. “Hair appointments
are big,” Davis says. Other services include minor household repairs,
gardening and making friendly visits to keep members engaged. The village
also provides referrals to commercial service providers, many of which
offer their services at discounted rates.
As of the end of 2019, the South Bay Village had more than 60 members and
69 active volunteers. “I’m getting between 30 and 45 calls
from prospective members and volunteers monthly,” Davis estimates.
“Our membership changes frequently, but there’s always some
kind of continuity. Some members move into assisted living homes, and
volunteers continue to visit them.”
While the South Bay Village started with a focus on services, they’ve
added a lot of social events. “We’ve had a tea at the Torrance
Historical Society & Museum. We’ve had ice cream socials and
a lunch at Mimi’s that went well. We even have had men saying, ‘We
should start a men’s group,’ which is great. We also have
made quite a few presentations to churches and caregivers. I’m hoping
we can work more closely with board and care homes and hospitals. We can
make a big difference.”
That difference means getting seniors more engaged socially and more active.
“The seniors who stay home get totally jazzed to go somewhere, even
if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood. And when they get a
little help, they can keep doing what they love, like gardening,”
The movement and the South Bay Village keep growing, she says. “We’ve
been super busy. We’ve completed more than 10,000 request assignments
since our founding.”
Palos Verdes Peninsula Village: Getting Together and Getting Things Done
The Palos Verdes Peninsula Village launched in March 2016 now has 103 members
and 65 volunteers. “It’s important to note many of the volunteers
are also members,” says executive director Marianne Propst. “It’s
a reciprocal relationship. We encourage members to help each other out.
They are all at different phases in their lives. Most are still very social
and active; some are not driving anymore. There’s a lot of paying
In addition to offering help with transportation, minor household repairs
and computer/technology challenges, the Palos Verdes Peninsula Village
maintains a strong social emphasis. Activities include two book clubs,
a monthly men’s gathering and monthly salons addressing current topics.
“Gradually increasing social isolation as one ages is not good for
anyone,” Propst explains. “We really address the whole person—mind
and body—so members can remain engaged and independent.”
The village’s online calendar shows social activities for members
and volunteers. “The events are created by membership with office
staff support,” says Propst, “and we encourage members to
host in their homes and to develop neighborhood circles and social groups.”
The third book group is starting after the first of the year. There’s
a program called SMILE (Seniors Meeting in Laughter and Enjoyment) and
a new guided autobiography class—a six-week program during which
participants use prompts to create chapters about their lives. “We
have golf outings and a flower-arranging class coming up,” Propst says.
And there’s plenty of practical support too. “We have about
20% of our membership who don’t drive, and we help them with rides,”
she shares. “And we have great handyman volunteers who can do things
like fixing doors that have come off the tracks or solving minor plumbing
A Rewarding Way To Give
Both the Palos Verdes Peninsula Village and the South Bay Village seek
more volunteers, who can sign up for the jobs they wish to do with no
frequency or time requirements. Many are early retirees who might eventually
need the services they now provide.
Others, says Davis, “have had older people in their lives they’ve
either lost or who are ill. They know: ‘If I don’t help, who
“That’s the point of the village,” adds Propst, “being
of service to others when you can be and knowing you’ll receive
help when you need it.”
Regardless of their motivation, most find it immensely satisfying. “Volunteers
and members start talking and become friends. They’ll often pair
themselves on subsequent assignments,” says Davis.
Propst and Davis emphasize the importance of the interaction for their
members. “Seniors get very isolated. Their friends all pass away.
They find it secure to stay at home, but it’s not good for them,”
says Davis. In fact, isolation can cause health problems. Research published
by the NIH finds mounting evidence that links loneliness to physical illness
as well as functional and cognitive decline. It eclipses even obesity
as a predictor of early death.
“I recently attended a Village-to-Village conference that focused
on social isolation,” says Propst. “In Palos Verdes we find
that often occurs due to our geography and dependence on cars. Even those
who still drive and don’t feel they are isolated do better with
more social interaction. We might not think we need it now, but it’s
much better to make friends and develop support now so you can rely on
them later. It benefits the volunteers too.”
While the village movement is based on volunteer work, funds are still
needed. Davis is working on a grant, and fundraising is definitely a fact
of life for both villages. “Our plans are for controlled growth,”
says Propst. “It would be nice to be bigger so more people couple
benefit, but we want to make sure we take care of the members we have.
Our Upside of Aging fall event is key to outreach and fundraising. We
had close to 400 people attend last year.”
Both villages are also hoping to work even more closely with South Bay
hospitals. To learn about other Village locations, visit vtvnetwork.org.
South Bay Village
22939 Hawthorne Blvd, Suite 106
Palos Verdes Peninsula Village
916 Silver Spur Road, Suite 302
Rolling Hills Estates