As the Village Movement marks 20 years, newest Village kicks off in southern Franklin County

  • Gale Mason, Nancy Maynard and President Fran Fortino will staff the newest Valley Neighbors group, covering Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/16/2022 8:54:30 AM
Modified: 2/16/2022 8:52:35 AM

WHATELY — As the national Village Movement marks 20 years of serving seniors in communities across the country, the Pioneer Valley’s newest Village is officially kicking off operations in southernmost Franklin County.

While the pandemic delayed Valley Neighbors’ planned 2021 launch date, President Fran Fortino said the “very needed support service” provided by Villages across the country is now available in the towns of Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately.

“Because of COVID, we kept weighing the risks and the possibilities and we decided it wasn’t worth the risk,” Fortino said. “We’ll do it starting now with safety in mind … we’re limiting what we can provide at the moment, but we’ll be flexible.”

The Village Movement is a grassroots idea that began with the Beacon Hill Village in Boston 20 years ago and has since spread to more than 300 communities across the country and the world. Each Village is a nonprofit organization focused on providing a wide range of services to seniors, such as transportation, light home care and social services including telephone check-ins and community gatherings, according to the Beacon Hill Village’s website.

The Valley Neighbors join several other villages in the Pioneer Valley, which include Neighbors at Home in Northfield; the Village Neighbors in Leverett, Shutesbury, New Salem and Wendell; as well as the Amherst and Northampton Neighbors.

Fortino said the “Village concept is fairly new in the U.S.,” but has helped make a difference in communities across the country for 20 years.

“It keeps growing, it’s an alternative to nursing homes and things like that where we put our elderly,” Fortino said. “The idea is pretty basic, if we can help ourselves and our neighbors stay in our community and our homes, it keeps people healthier and keeps communities together … I kind of consider it as organized acts of kindness.”

For example, in 2021 Fortino and others were able to help a woman in her 90s install an air conditioner in her home, which allowed her to stay in her home over the summer. He noted this is something that may seem minor, but something as simple as an air conditioner can allow someone to continue to live independently.

“We did that sort of informally, but because we were able to do that she was able to stay in her home,” Fortino said. “It’s little things that keep people comfortable enough and safe.”

In Franklin County in particular, transportation remains one of the biggest issues for seniors, and Fortino said that is one of their “main services.” In a community that is getting “grayer and grayer,” Fortino said it’s essential that services like these are available.

“It’s enough to keep people in their homes by getting food or getting them to a doctor’s appointment,” he said. “It’s like an insurance policy in some ways.”

In January, the Valley Neighbors sent flyers out to the three towns and received a “terrific response.”

“We got a whole bunch of new volunteers interested in helping out, and a good amount of members willing to get help,” Fortino said. “We just started to put out the word that we’re ready to help folks; we’re looking forward to growth.”

Folks age 60 and older who live in Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately are eligible to become members of Valley Neighbors, which has also partnered with LifePath and the South County Senior Center. First-year memberships are free because of grants from Cooley Dickinson Health Care and the Massachusetts Community Health and Healthy Aging Funds. After the free year, memberships are $50 for an individual and $75 for a household. Reduced-fee memberships are also available upon application.

Those interested in applying can find applications at or at People with questions or who need assistance applying can email or call 413-453-9057. People interested in volunteering may also reach out by email or phone.

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.


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