Silver Sage Village

"I was touched by the idea of creating a community that fosters real growth ... where people are becoming more of what they want to be as they age."

- Silvine Farnell, Silver Sage member

Jim Leach spied a unique opportunity when land became available across the street from Wild Sage, an intergenerational co-housing community in Boulder, Colorado. Inspired by the book Age-ing to Sage-ing, he envisioned a community centered around fostering an enlightened elderhood. Leach had already heard a compelling case for siting elder-specific communities next to intergenerational ones. Charles Durrett, known for bringing the cohousing concept to the U.S., had shared the idea with him after learning about the practice on a trip to Denmark. Intrigued, Leach and his cohousing development company, Wonderland Hill Development , began to conceptualize Silver Sage Village, the first elder-focused cohousing community in Colorado.

 

"Silver Sage was an opportunity to offer the best of both worlds," notes 65-year-old Leach, referring to the village's age-specific nature and its easy access to an intergenerational community. Members of Silver Sage have the opportunity to focus on looking within, as well as reaching out, with others experiencing a similar phase of life. They will also have the chance to serve as mentors and surrogate grandparents, sharing the benefit of their reflections with the young residents of Wild Sage.

 

"I don't think that Silver Sage residents would be as interested if Wild Sage wasn't across the street," says Annie Russell, a Wild Sage resident planning to move to Silver Sage. "If it were an isolated community for elders only, there would be much less appeal."

 

Looking forward to a proposed move-in date of September 2006, Silver Sage has already been an active community for nearly a year. So far, fourteen committed members have claimed ten of the neighborhood's sixteen units, which include duplexes and attached homes. Silver Sage homes are described as ADA-adaptable. Wheelchair accessible master bedrooms and master bathrooms are on the ground floor. Residents also have the option of making additional adaptations, such as adding grab bars in the bathroom and lowering countertops.

 

In typical cohousing fashion, homes will surround a pedestrian green space with raised gardening beds and an outdoor kitchen. Residents have contributed to the design of the 5,000 square foot common house, where they look forward to sharing meals, hosting speakers, and holding house concerts, reading groups, and fitness classes.

 

While rental units are not available, six of the sixteen units are permanently affordable homes, for which potential buyers must qualify with the City of Boulder. Through this program, prices and income guidelines are set, and annual appreciation is limited to 2%. Depending on the applicant's income, four of the six 860 square foot homes sell for $119,000 each, while the other two are priced at $143,000. The remaining ten Silver Sage units are Boulder market rate homes starting at $375,000.

 

Silver Sage also benefits immensely from its location on the edge of North Boulder's Holiday Neighborhood, a mixed-use neighborhood based on the concept of new urbanism. Situated on 27 acres of land, the Holiday Neighborhood sprinkles housing amidst an array of businesses that provide one-stop shopping in a pedestrian environment.

 

    "To become sages, we must undergo an initiatory process, in which we learn to lead without dominating others, to make compassion the ruling principle of our actions, and to serve the whole with a multi-generational perspective. I believe that such a life-transforming process can best be accomplished in a supportive community with people who are committed to the same high aspirations."

 

    from Age-ing to Sage-ing

 

Silvine Farnell and her husband Stewart heard about Silver Sage in a newsletter for the Spiritual Eldering Institute. Familiar with the book Age-ing to Sage-ing written by the institute's founder, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, they decided to give the community a look.

 

"I was touched by the idea of creating a community that fosters real growth - a place where people are becoming more of what they want to be as they age," says Farnell, a 61 year-old retired English professor.

 

Farnell, like many other Silver Sage members, appreciates the opportunity to join others in a shared discovery of what it means to be an elder. For several members, this discovery process has a spiritual context, which accommodates the community's broad range of spiritual expression. Spiritual eldering is an important concept for some community members, as it focuses on encouraging individuals to translate the gifts of their experience into a legacy for future generations.

 

In the spirit of raising awareness, community members have actively participated in retreats and workshops offering new tools for developing a more compassionate understanding of themselves and each other -- gains that will clearly support the community's consensus decision-making process. Prospective members can get a taste of the group's collective consciousness by accessing the reflective questionnaire on the community's website. Based on the same tool used by the ElderSpirit Community, the questionnaire helps curiosity seekers determine if the community is a potential good fit for them.

 

Exploring a shared experience of elderhood also involves facing the issue of providing care for each other in the coming years. Maureen Cassulo, a 65 year-old long-term care ombudsman and active member of the Colorado Coalition for Culture Change, co-chairs the group's Aging and Community Committee. Together, she and her fellow community members are just beginning to define what mutual support will look like as the community ages. Since members uphold the idea of aging in place and dying at home, they have considered different scenarios that are both realistic and creative. A significant first step in this process involves residents developing a deeper understanding of each other's preferences.

 

"We are hoping to offer a workshop on the Five Wishes," says Cassulo, referring to the living will project developed by Aging with Dignity. "We hope to use it as a tool for understanding and respecting each other's wishes."

 

The Aging and Community Committee plans to draw on residents' skills to determine how they can best support each other. They also anticipate creating a system that augments community support with professional home health care.

 

Community members have discussed different ways that home health care providers might work with the community. One scenario involves using the common house guest space as an outpost for a professional caregiver. This individual might begin serving the needs of one resident, but over time, end up serving the needs of four or five residents simultaneously. Chuck Durrett saw this technique applied successfully in Danish elder cohousing communities.

 

Jim Leach also points out that larger homes at Silver Sage utilize a suite design, where a live-in caregiver can be comfortably accommodated. This individual can serve someone within the household or several members of the community at once.

 

Maureen Cassulo takes this idea one step further, "I have a dream that we might become our own agent for home health care." Noting the skills and talents already in the community, Cassulo doesn't find it too far-fetched to imagine a Silver Sage resident in this position, and thus, keeping it in the family. With cost reduction in mind, Cassulo would also like to see the community acquire its own group plan for long-term care insurance.

 

While they continue to refine their vision for mutual support in the community, Silver Sage members echo an appreciation for working it out together and defining it for themselves.

 

"We are Elders serving Elders," states Cassulo, "We are so fortunate to have these options. Choices and options - that's what we all should have."

 

Laura Beck is the Program Director for The Eden Alternative's new initiative, Eden at Home. She also lives at Ecovillage at Ithaca, a cohousing community in Ithaca, New York.


References
 

Schacter-Shalomi, Rabbi Zalman and Miller, Ron. Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older. Warner Books, 1997.


Other Resources
 

Durrett, Charles. Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 1-800-841-BOOK. Release date: September 2005.

 

Durrett, Charles and McCamant, Kathryn. Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, 2nd Edition. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 1-800-841-BOOK, 1994.

 

Aging with Dignity
Phone: (888)5-WISHES
Web Site: www.agingwithdignity.org

 

The Cohousing Association of the United States
Phone: (314)754-5828
Web site: www.cohousing.org

 

The Cohousing Company
Phone: (510)549-9980
Web site: www.cohousingco.com

 

The Elder Cohousing Network
Phone: (303)413-8066
Web site: www.abrahampaiss.com/ElderCohousing/

 

Silver Sage Village
4676 Broadway
Boulder, CO 80304
Phone: (303)449-3232 x215
Web site: www.silversagevillage.com
Email: annie@whdc.com

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