Can you see yourself living in your home for years or even decades to come? Or are you still in search of your forever home? According to statistics from the AARP, more than 90% of people over the age of 65 would prefer to stay in their current home the rest of their lives. By 2030, a fifth of the population will be in that age range. “Aging in place” has many benefits, including treasuring the memories and possessions you’ve accumulated at your home and staying connected to your community, friends, and familiar surroundings. Saving money and maintaining a sense of independence as long as possible are also key factors in this decision.
So, what happens if someone wishes to remain at home but can no longer drive, doesn’t have family nearby, or could use a little extra help? They can turn to a Madison-based nonprofit called Sharing Active Independent Lives - SAIL. Executive Director Ann Albert said the organization was created to “ready ourselves for the future,” especially in a time of life when people may face challenges such as “cognitive and physical decline, loneliness, and limited support systems.”
Sharing Active Independent Lives, a program of AgeBetter Inc., in collaboration with Attic Angel Association and Oakwood Village, celebrates independence and stewardship in older adults, creating a community of learning, activity, socialization, and support for one another. Founded in 2005, SAIL is one of the oldest and largest organizations in the country’s grassroots Village Movement with more than 500 individual members over the age of 55.
Take Dan Miller’s neighbor, for example, who is a charter member of SAIL. “She is extremely grateful for this organization, which has allowed her to keep living in her home to the age of 101 and counting,” Dan said. “SAIL recently brought another centenarian member over to her house so that the two of them could reminisce and chat.”
Friendly visits and transportation assistance are just some of the many benefits of a membership with SAIL. “Services are inspired, created, and often delivered by our members” and are “tailored to meet members’ individual needs” to promote living “healthy, safe, and independent lives,” Albert said.
The availability of the “Rise and Shine” daily check-in call gives those who live alone and their loved ones peace of mind. Other services include light home repairs, technology support, house checks, medication reviews, and picking up old electronics. For personal and home services that require hiring a professional, SAIL offers access to a list of vetted providers as well as special discounts. SAIL also hosts social events such as book clubs and walking groups, wellness and educational programs, volunteer opportunities, a notary service, and monthly one-on-one Tech Tutoring sessions.
All of these Village Model benefits contribute to the feeling of community through SAIL, which was apparent while watching the nonprofit’s informational webinar in recognition of their 17th anniversary this year. Guest speaker Dr. Alexis Eastman, a geriatrician with UW Health who offers an Aging 101 workshop for SAIL, said, “We know that people who have good social connections live longer, have less depression, and are less likely to develop dementia. (The Village Model) also promotes larger cultural and emotional wellbeing to have them connected to a larger group and challenges them to be more independent and physically active, which is incredibly important for health.”
Other members shared how SAIL has made a positive impact in their lives, especially during the pandemic. “All of a sudden we retire, get older, and then go, ‘What now?’” said Mary Helen C. “SAIL is amazing for helping us be active, mentally and physically. During Covid, non-Covid, SAIL knows that we all matter.”
Program Director Nicole Schaefer introduced some members who “pay it forward by also becoming volunteers,” including Kenneth M., who retired in 2014. “My parents had lived well into their nineties and were independent for the most part, but they had children nearby to help them. My kids are all on the west coast, so at some point I felt I’d need some of those services SAIL provides. I felt I could help with different tasks, like driving people to doctor’s appointments, grocery stores, wherever they need to go. I’ve built bookcases, moved boxes, and flipped mattresses.” He said it’s been “fun and interesting” to meet more people and “listen to their stories” through this role, which “makes me feel valued and that I have a lot more that I can contribute but also more I could take advantage of."
Kenneth recently met Nancy W., who also began her SAIL journey as a volunteer driver 17 years ago and started using more of its services when she had a stroke. “When you don’t drive anymore yourself for one reason or another, that’s not the end of life, because SAIL can drive for you and help you with a whole new life plan with a very caring attitude,” she said. “You’ll make new friends, you’ll be updated on wonderful educational programs, and enjoy wonderful meals.”
To learn more about SAIL’s services, upcoming events, and how to become a volunteer or member, visit sailtoday.org and check out the Facebook page and monthly newsletter.