DOWNTOWN — Harold Weiss first started volunteering at WISE & Healthy Aging 25 years ago. His wife wanted him to get out of the house after he retired. He saw a sign advertising for volunteers at the Third Street Promenade and has been answering phones for the organization ever since.
“When you go to work for WISE & Healthy Aging, it brings the best out of you,” Weiss said.
In the 25 years Weiss has volunteered, he has seen the senior services agency evolve and expand to cover more services for older adults, from social work to reverse mortgage counseling.
“I’ve seen people come in here that look like they don’t know whether they’re coming or going, but when they leave they have a little smile,” Weiss said.
Now, WISE & Healthy Aging is in the process of expanding their services, again. It is currently in the process of creating WISE Connections, a program that will provide services to adults age 50 and over who wish to remain in their own home as they age, which it hopes to launch in September or October. It is currently in the survey phase to determine membership pricing and services.
WISE Connections is based on the virtual village model that was started in Beacon Hill in Boston approximately eight years ago. The idea is that neighbors work together to provide support services for seniors so that they may continue living in their own homes.
As the idea for villages spread across the country, Robin Davidson, the human services administrator for City Hall and member of the governing council of the Santa Monica village, brought the idea to WISE & Healthy Aging roughly four years ago. She said she thought it would be a great service for Santa Monica residents.
“For younger seniors and baby boomers, they want to stay in their homes,” she said. “They’re not necessarily interested in retirement communities like Sun City.”
She said she thinks WISE Connections will fit well into the programs WISE & Healthy Aging already provides.
WISE & Healthy Aging has been serving the Los Angeles community for more than 30 years. It has two main areas of services for seniors, said Grace Cheng Braun, the president and CEO of WISE & Healthy Aging. First, it provides a federally mandated service to look out for the rights of people living in long-term care facilities that is called the ombudsman program. Second, it offers a range of programs from adult day care to mental health services to volunteering.
The organization serves three main groups, Cheng Braun said. The first group is the care givers of adults 50 years old and up. The second group is what is called the pre- and active-retirees, who are mostly still working, but looking to transition into retirement. The third group, the group WISE & Healthy Aging is most know for helping, is comprised of frail and dependent elderly.
Planning for WISE Connections began in earnest about a year ago, Cheng Braun said. With WISE Connections, the organization will create a virtual community that will provide services such as vetted and discounted vendors, in-home care and transportation to those seniors who would prefer to grow old in the home and community they are currently living in. The program will also provide opportunities for individual and group social events.
“It’s an exciting way for people to look at how then can come together in a way to work together that would benefit each person being able to stay in their homes as long as possible and having a certain quality to their lives, having the ability to have social connections and also access to services,” she said.
WISE Connections will operate as a network for virtual villages around the city, Cheng Braun said. The first group started in Mar Vista independently, but then decided to join with WISE & Healthy Aging. Other communities that have joined WISE Connections are Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades and Westchester, among others.
In preparation for the official launch of WISE Connections in the fall, WISE & Healthy Aging are currently holding open houses across the city, as well as providing an online survey to gauge the needs and desires of the community. The main issue it is looking at is possible pricing of the program, Cheng Braun said. Membership for villages across the country ranges from $500 to $850 for a single person and $750 to $1350 for a household or couple. But the cost of WISE Connections would most likely fall on the cheaper side of those ranges, so more people would be able to join, she said.
One aspect of WISE Connections that would be different from villages across the country is the possibility of subsidies for low income seniors wishing to join, said Davidson.
“It’s ultimately the decision of the City Council,” Davidson said. “But if it happened it would be groundbreaking because 100 other villages across the country haven’t been able to offer subsidies. The village model has really only worked for seniors who have cash.”
Though the program is still evolving and will continue to evolve even after it officially launches in the fall, Davidson said it has received an overwhelmingly positive reception so far. She attended an open house Sunday and said the people present were excited and realized how the village could make their lives easier.
“As a baby boomer myself,” she said, “I’m really looking forward to it.”