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article image'It takes a Village' concept helps elderly in San Francisco Special

By Jonathan Farrell     May 30, 2011 in Lifestyle
San Francisco - "It takes a village" concept is now the approach to retirement and this idea is taking root in many places and groups in San Francisco are embracing the idea.
The non-profit San Francisco Village initiated its outreach of services to the public in January of 2009. Yet as founder Rev. Mary Moore Gaines of St. James Episcopal Church explained, "we actually began getting things together in 2007.  
But because of the economy, the recession, it took some time to get things all together and going," she said.
Gaines, a pastor at St. James Episcopal in San Francisco's Laurel Heights/Jordan Park district for 20 years, recently retired.
She is now making SF Village her focus. "We have about 110 members who have joined the community at SF Village." "We are aiming to grow to over 350 or more and hope to inspire other neighborhoods in the City to form a village of their own," said Gaines.
Gaines who based the idea of the SF Village on the concept of Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts, sees this as a movement that is going nationwide.
Basically it’s building a community of people who are able to band together to help each other. They do this by creating a "center" where people can gather, get information and support for their needs.
Members then look to other members as well as to a network of local partnerships that unite to coordinate the fulfillment of those needs. These partnerships are made up of outreach agencies that help people get the care and support they need to remain in their own homes.
"We are not trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak," said Gaines. "We want to tap into what is already there to help build and strengthen our community." SF Village shares office space on Geary Blvd with the SF Institute on Aging.
Gaines and volunteers Mary Ann and Phil Faris invited this reporter to join them on an outreach visit to the home of Michelle Vignes in Noe Valley. While that might be some distance from where Gaines ministers at St. James, it is all part of what Gaines and others are trying to build. No neighborhood is too far or out of reach for Gaines' vision.
Noe Valley district is a little valley, a hilly enclave adjacent to the popular Castro District. The help that Gaines and Mary Ann and Phil Faris offers is vital because in areas like Noe Valley where hills are very steep, and sidewalks narrow getting around and running errands can be very daunting for an older person with mobility challenges.
"Right now we want to help as many people in the City as we can," said Gaines. "And then once the concept catches on we hope to form a village for each of the neighborhoods in San Francisco," she added.
Vignes’ little cottage-like home is filled with all the accomplishments of a rich career as a freelance photographer, documentary-photo journalist and artist. At age 77 she is now wheelchair bound. But she has no plans on leaving her home.
"Take a look around and see the view," said Vignes as she pointed out to a wooden deck filled with plants, flowers and a spectacular view of the City. "I don't want to leave all this, this is my home," said Vignes.
Phil and Mary Ann Faris were awestruck as they surveyed the view. They began asking Vignes questions about her life; how long she had been in the City. "Over 40 years or so," she replied, with a French accent. Then that familiar question that goes something like, "what brought you to San Francisco?"
She laughed as she gave her answer because Vignes had been living and working in Paris. And to leave Paris, "well, I was in love at that time and followed that love here to San Francisco," she said. When the love fizzled she remained carrying on her freelance photography work.
"I worked with some of the best in the business," said Vignes. Her dinette table had several photo essay books. One was filled with luminaries of San Francisco's blues scene in the Fillmore and the other was a very poignant documentation of the Native American occupation of Alcatraz in 1969.
The Faris’ were enthralled with Vignes' work. She then asked them to help her find a recipe for ratatouille, her favorite dish in French cooking. Her cookbooks were among the many in her little library set comfortably in her living room. Even though Vignes has someone to help her at night, she needs someone to help her during the day.
"And I need someone to drive me to appointments and for errands," she said. Vignes pointed out that while some outreach services are good, they can be expensive.
SF Village volunteers have helped Michelle in a number of ways, including helping to replace a worn out refrigerator and helping to arrange transportation so that she can attend village events as well as appointments and errands.
Gaines hopes that forming strong membership bases in the community village will help to defer costs and make staying in one’s home a viable and sustaining option for seniors.
"I am an advocate for seniors and people with disabilities to remain in their homes and maintain independence," said Gaines. She and many volunteers like Phil and Mary Ann are eager to make SF Village a success. For more information about San Francisco Village visit the web site.
More about Retirement, Aging, San Francisco, mary moore gaines, Seniors
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