Photo by Gina Luna / The Capitol Hill Times
“So it’s like a formal sharing economy?”
“It’s communitarian and there’s no tracking,” Denise Klein told The Capitol Hill Times during this month’s East District Council meeting.
Klein is one of a handful of people working to launch Seattle’s third virtual village, Wider Horizons, that would traverse the Central Area and up to Montlake.
As part of a national movement that began in Boston 12 years ago, virtual villages are member-driver organizations meant to build community in a way that people, as they age, have enough social and other supports to allow them to stay in the same residence for as long as they’d like to be there. There are approximately 125 of these villages functioning and vibrant throughout the United States right now, with just as many in the development phase.
A membership-based network of give-and-take is established. Members who are able and willing can take on volunteer roles, like driving another member who needs a ride to the doctor or grocery store, etc. And members also make known their own needs for other volunteers to meet.
Transportation is the biggest request among virtual village members, but other services include access to handymen (carpentry, electrical, plumbing), technology experts, housekeepers, dog walkers, and, potentially, citywide reduced-fare benefits. If there’s a need that can’t be met within the village community, the village’s staff will be informed to make intelligent referrals.
“I know people who want to volunteer because they like it, or because they like it and they want people to help them when they need help,” Klein said when asked where these eager volunteers would come from.
“This village will be more intergenerational than most. There’s a ton of interest on the part of young people. This particular village has the opportunity to be more diverse in every way – age, income, race, sexual orientation, etc. That is exciting to me. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Members join for different reasons. Staff from the first Boston village said, “Some enjoy the programs and activities, the convenience of going to one source for all kinds of answers and services, the discounts, the opportunity to connect with others in our neighborhood. Some members join because they need help at home now, and others want the peace of mind knowing they will be prepared for the future.”
Annual membership dues are projected to be $600 per individual, or $900 for couples, but partial or full scholarships are available to those who want to be involved but can’t afford what’s on the price tag. These fees pay for things like staff who match member needs with volunteers and keep the village running, promotional materials, and scholarships.
In a mature village, Klein expects that roughly 60 percent of its revenue will come from membership. Right now in startup phase, however, fiscal sponsors are welcome. Wider Horizons has one sponsor for the time being, Jewish Family
Services, that will put money in if other sponsors sign on.
A question brought up during the meeting was “Why not merge with the two other Seattle villages instead of having many separate ones throughout the city?”
n Portland, for example, their villages operate in a hub-and-spokes model, where there’s a central group, the “hub,” and each neighborhood has its own, a “spoke.” Sometimes the hub provides services to the spokes to maximize resources, and visa versa. But Portland’s virtual villages started that way; Seattle’s didn’t.
Both the Phinney Neighborhood Association Village and Northeast Seattle Together are connected to and supportive of Capitol Hill’s incoming village, but each have different characteristics and will continue to operate independently.
Logistics-wise, Wider Horizon’s articles of appropriation are sitting at a state desk, waiting for its Unified Business Identifier to be signed. Right now there are four board members and a fifth will be added this week.
The village expects to go live around Valentine’s day next year. Until then, more about the movement can be learned by visiting www.VTVnetwork.org.
For more information or to get involved, contact Denise Klein at firstname.lastname@example.org.