North Oakland Village Flameholders
|A conversation with founding members Judith Coates and Sandra Davidson
By Nancy Hall
Judith, you are the President and a founding member of North Oakland Village (NOV). How did you get involved?
In December 2007, I
saw a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the Village concept, a
whole new way to support people who want to stay in their own homes as
they age —and thought, what a great idea. I have lived in my
home for 31 years and used to jokingly say I’d like to stay here until
they carried me out. I thought others must feel the same about aging in
So I put a notice in the local Piedmont Avenue area newsletter, PANIL
Notes. A dozen people came to the first meeting in February 2008 in my
home. We had several follow up meetings and new people came from the
community each time, ending up with a core group of 8-10 people who
really wanted to work on this. We discussed different models, from
strictly volunteer to fee-for-service non-profit. Some people were
already volunteering to help their elderly neighbors and were not
interested in anything more organized. At the time I was doing volunteer
work and could see how hard it is to set boundaries as a volunteer and
to run a consistent program without someone whose job it is to organize
and direct it. I strongly preferred the Beacon Hill (Boston) model with
paid staff and a volunteer component.
The beginning was very exciting; we got charged up! Then we had to
face the hard slog of what it meant to get the thing running. You must
have services available to attract members to the organization, but
don’t yet have the resources to develop services. We received about
$9,000 in donations which we’ve been running on. I took a class on
Board development at Cal State which was helpful at the time.
It has been very much a cooperative endeavor, with assistance from
other villages. Village to Village Network, which supports the
development of villages nationally, had a workshop in Oakland in early
2009. A couple of hundred people attended from around the Bay—Richmond,
Berkeley, Alameda, Oakland. It was very supportive to realize that we
were part of a movement, with villages being created all over the
Sandra, what drew you to take a leadership role in founding NOV?
My church community had been talking about this exciting new idea
called a Senior Village as part of our Elderberries Ministry. Reverend
Elaine Reichert and I met Judith and another committed ‘villager’ Ruby
Long at Starbucks in the Rockridge shopping center within a week of
learning about the Piedmont Avenue group from two lines in a
Montclarion article in June 2009. The timing could not have been better
in terms of my own life. Aging with choice and with quality of life
are very significant issues for me.
I went to the very next meeting in July, 2009. At this meeting we
came up with the name North Oakland Village, elected Judith as
president, and formed ourselves as the Board. I am proud to be one of
the seven founding board members. We formed the Executive committee a
few months later, of which I am a member. We then started thinking
about all the tasks ahead of us —state incorporation, bylaws, 501(c)(3)
status, a business plan—and began work to accomplish them. Judith is
right about the cooperative spirit that exists among Villages. We had
full use of templates and models from Village to Village Network, San
Francisco Village and Ashby Village in Berkeley to develop our own
organizational structure, forms and procedures.
What is your hope for the rest of the journey, Judith?
One of my hopes for this Village is to build community. I find that
like all of us, as we age and lose people, it’s harder to make new
friends. One of my dreams is that North Oakland Village will provide a
pool of people to call on if you want to go to a movie or take a walk
or just have someone to go out for coffee with. For the future, I would
love to see a spiritual component to it, a kind of community chaplaincy
I like having events. For example, we had an event in May 2010 to
thank our donors (of money & time), to say to the community “we’re
here!”, and to reach out to prospective members and volunteers. We had
about 60 people at Plymouth United Church of Christ in Oakland. A
Montclarion reporter wrote a nice article which made it into the
Tribune, and others contacted us as a result.
I don’t want to see the heart go out of the village. We want to keep
it a Village—not professionalize it to the point where it doesn’t feel
personal anymore. The fact that we are Village members as well as Board
members is deliberate. The heart needs to stay in the Village.
What do you see for your future in the Village, Sandra?
This is not a church community, but it a very
spiritual commitment. I think we have so much to offer each other by
staying connected. For example, I am excited about developing another
new component of the services NOV offers. We call this “Transitions
Time.” It is about helping members make the transition from their
homes to a service-rich, assisted living environment, if and when this
needs to happen.
I am excited and rewarded by working with a network of individuals
who bring new observations, questions and insights to our growing NOV. I
can see that the Village is coming together and there is an entity
here. You just keep on doing the work, and all of a sudden the clouds
part and the sun shines!
Specifically, I want to welcome volunteers and help them do
meaningful work for NOV that matches their talents. I see the Village
as a place for us to continue to experience our worth and value in
community and to enjoy the richness of our lives.
Judith Coates is a chaplain for Sutter Hospice. Sandra Davidson is a retired adult teacher and community volunteer.