By Kevin Stankiewicz
The Columbus Dispatch

Columbus, OH (AP) – Gone are John Fuller’s days of paying his neighbors for rides to Kroger.

The 84-year-old Fuller now gets rides to the grocery store from At Home by High, a membership network for older adults in the Short North and surrounding neighborhoods aimed at helping them remain in their homes and neighborhoods as they age.

At Home by High is part of a national network of “villages’’ and one of three in Columbus. But not for long.

A village on the Hilltop will launch early next year, and the concept might continue spreading in Columbus and into the suburbs, said Katie White, director of Age-Friendly Columbus, an initiative started in 2016 to ensure that older adults have opportunities to stay in their homes and enjoy safe and active lifestyles.

Leaders from about 15 communities – including Bexley, Westerville, Worthington, Upper Arlington and Columbus’ East Side – attended an event in May explaining how to establish a village, White said.

The first village in Columbus started in 2014 in the German Village neighborhood. One in Clintonville – Village in the Ville – launched in April 2015, and At Home by High followed in January 2017.

The expansion in Columbus mirrors a broader national trend. In May 2011, there were 56 villages in the United States. There are at least 350 now, according to the Village to Village Network, a national membership group.

A key reason they keep growing? Because they appear to be beneficial, said Carrie Graham, director of health policy at Health Research for Action center at the University of California, Berkeley.

While the characteristics of each village vary, this is how they typically work: Anyone age 50 or older can join. Usually, there’s a membership fee. A village director organizes social events, such as lunches and weekly coffee shop visits or trips to museums and the movies.

Then there’s the service piece: Villages build a group of volunteers to help members with a variety of needs, and some members also volunteer to help other older adults. Sometimes it’s giving a member a ride to the grocery store – like Fuller – or to the doctor. Or it can be helping around the house, like raking leaves or retrieving something from an attic or helping with technology.

In many cases, it’s help with tasks that might seem minor but actually can be difficult for older adults to handle alone, said Ed Elberfeld, a board member for Village Connections in German Village.

Most villages also offer preferred service providers, which are essentially lists of companies or people deemed trustworthy by the village to help with things volunteers cannot, such as plumbing.

Graham said that is why villages can be so effective – they create opportunities for social interaction and make it easier for seniors to access services, from volunteers to vetted providers. Doing both is “really important,’’ she said.

“If you took the research on what older adults need and what works well, and decided to create a new organization, villages would be very close to what academic gerontologists would create,’’ Graham said.

In a national survey of 1,753 village members, Graham and her colleagues found that half of members reported that village membership made it easier for them to age in place.

In general, the more members using services from the village, the more likely they were to say villages improved their quality of life, Graham said.

Fuller, of Harrison West neighborhood, said that’s been the case for him. He initially joined At Home by High to gain access to its transportation services. He said he used to pay neighbors who were still able to drive $5 per trip, but after a few months he joined the village transportation program and also started going to the social events, including a trip to the Columbus Museum of Art.

“I don’t know what I’d do without it,’’ Fuller said of At Home by High.

With the Hilltop village planned to launch in early 2019, leaders held a public input session last week at the Hilltop branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library to find out what services residents would like.

Judy Martin, 76, plans to join.

Martin said she’s still able to drive but could use help now and again with things around the house.

She currently has a burnt-out light bulb in the bathroom, for example, that needs replacing and a gutter that could use a cleaning.

“There’s not really anything out there like this now,’’ she said. “It would really be helpful.’’
Photo: A member & a helper