Saturday, Aug. 25, 2007 | Candy Walsh and Susan Deininger have a message for their neighbors in Tierrasanta: You’re getting older and you’re going to have to start thinking about it. “If we don’t plan for our futures, someone else will and we may not be happy with their plan,” Walsh says.

Walsh, 56, and Deininger, 61, met after they each read an article in an issue of the AARP magazine that described a phenomenon known as aging in place or aging at home. They’re more than a year into the crusade to spread the word about their Tierrasanta Project — soon to be re-named the “Tierrasanta Village of San Diego.”

Most of the current projects are on the East Coast; Walsh and Deininger have borrowed a slew of ideas from one called the Beacon Hill Village in Massachusetts. The core elements of the program would include social gatherings, weekly grocery store trips, errand assistance and a la carte concierge services for things that get trickier with age, like setting up holiday decorations or cleaning out gutters.

Having lived in Tierrasanta for 29 years and five years, respectively, Walsh and Deininger say their vision is for people helping people and for staying in their community. They’ve held focus groups for Tierrasantans aged at least 50 years old. They sat down to tell us more about getting older but avoiding getting old.

What are the motivations for this even entering your consciousness?

Candy: AARP bulletin, December 2005. I read it, Susan read it. We didn’t know each other at the time and we both started talking to people, and in talking to these people we ended up with a common denominator who in turn said, “Hey, I’ve heard” and they put us together. So … March 2006 is when Susan and I started collaborating on this.

And what did that look like? Describe the project.

Susan: [Tierrasanta] was a bedroom community and it was started by young families with kids. It has done a great job of setting up services and opportunities for those kids. But they don’t even realize that meanwhile, those kids are growing up. Some of them were moving back, but a lot of them were leaving. People are growing older here. I’m new to the community and I love it. I got on the community council right away to find out something about it, and when Candy and I got together we just felt like this is a time for this community to be proactive. We’re isolated here; we’re our own little island. Transportation is a real big problem. There really are no services for mature adults here.

What kind of services are you talking about?

Candy: One of the things we’re looking at as we look down the road are the kinds of things we would want. Now, we’re aiming at those 50 and older and hoping to get those younger seniors to be in this, involved in this. There will be volunteer opportunities. But the kinds of services that they might also want as they grow older, they can tap into those other services. We decided that we are going to look at two elements that we have the ability to pass at this time. One of those is the concierge service. You call, you want something, and we find a match.

Laundromat, dry cleaning, groceries …

Susan: I’m going on a vacation Sept. 9. I need a ride to the airport, please. Somebody needs to pick up my dry cleaning before I go. I’m at work. I’m too busy. While I’m gone I’d like to have my car serviced. We need a vet to take care of our sick pet. We don’t want to worry about it. It can be a lot of different things. That’s one side of it. It can also be an elderly person who has a pet, can’t get the pet in the carrier. Anything in between and beyond.

Now that’s one element. The second element is the social connectiveness. We know that things do not go so well for those of us at home when we become isolated. So our plan, as has been at Beacon Hill Village and all these other villages that have been springing up, is we want to develop those opportunities for people to be together, to do things together in their community, among themselves, outside of their community, meaning in San Diego in general. Things that will keep us involved, keep us active, and make new connections.

Our kids have grown and gone. I’m no longer meeting with the mothers of all these other kids. In fact, I’ve got time to develop some interests of my own. Who’s doing this club? Who’s doing bridge? … Who’s doing this kind of thing? And so we need some connectiveness and reconnecting.

In addition to the concierge is there an idea that it would be sort of cooperative where Mr. Smith knows how to fix sinks, and … if he fixes my house I’ll help you with your healthcare needs?

Candy: One of the things we’re looking at is volunteer time banking, so if someone has services or time, they’re someone who needs a companion to go walking for them, they’re getting a little bit afraid. That person is volunteering their time to be used for themselves later or to bank it into a general need fund for those who may not be able to afford their membership. Because we do intend to have a low-income type of membership available for those. As you’re probably aware there are a lot of people in California that are house wealthy. But that’s it. House wealthy. They don’t have a lot of disposable income. So we’re trying to work it so that we have this place for those kind of people.

Yeah, let’s talk about the finances a little bit. How would something like this be run? You’re talking about some staff that would be available for part of the project, and membership fees would be the way some of that is paid for? And what are you looking at as sort of a general idea of how much something like this would cost to be involved in?

Candy: Yes. We’re a little premature at this point really, but I can give you kind of a gamble of what other villages across the United States or East Coast predominantly are charging. I believe it’s $580 for a single membership and $780 for a couple. And then it’s how much for a membership plus (low-income subsidized membership)?

Susan: $150 a year and $200, something like that. … So we’re looking at all the things that are out there currently. Some of these other villages are charging anywhere between 400-and-something to a thousand. Now this is per year.

Any idea of how many members it would take to be self-sustained?

Susan: All I can give you is what Beacon Hill Village has described, and I don’t believe they’re self-sustaining yet. They have I believe 400 memberships and that’s a variety of types. Twenty-three percent of their members are low-income. They’re getting money from foundations to help support that stipend.

So therefore, we know that in any nonprofit you’ll have to do fundraising. We’re gearing up for that. We’re looking for board members. We want board members who are going to be active with this, wanting to work with it for the long term. We hope that this thing is going to survive us. An important element of living in a community (is) to be able to stay there and know that this entity will be there for them.

Before you were talking about that nobody wants to talk about getting older. Explain that a little bit.

Candy: This has been a bedroom community of young families. Age has kind of caught up with them. They haven’t really faced that at all. One of the things we’ve been doing is having these focus groups throughout the community, wanting to do 450 to 500 surveys, finding out what people want, what they’ve been thinking about, what they need that they could have in Tierrasanta but don’t. It’s been a real eye-opener. A lot of them have not thought about this at all. There has been some resistance. We have been doing surveys since January 31. Now, when we have the focus groups people are far more aware, they’re far more enthusiastic. They are far more interested in getting this thing going.

What are you hoping to avoid? Are you trying to avoid living in nursing homes? Having to move, sell your home?

Susan: We want to have something in place that will allow us to be independent, free of leaning on neighbors or family. Being independent is the No. 1 thing for as long as we can be. We don’t want to prematurely move into assisted living or a nursing home. In fact, if everything goes as planned with this, we hope to be able to have a strategic partner that has some healthcare all handled such that we would oversee the home healthcare in the home so we realistically could stay home even when we have some medical problems. Part of it is I love being in a community with younger people. We all do. We do provide infrastructure here. I really feel like we’re being used. We’re valuable. I don’t want to move to a place where it’s me and a bunch of other old people. [both laugh]

I just love being a part of the whole range of communities. I think others here as well. We’re getting that. We have been raising awareness in our community since last January and it’s finally coming around now. Some of us believe that there is this age issue. Ageism. You can be old but there’s somebody older than you. So you aren’t going to need anything because you don’t need it now. They aren’t thinking of the potential of tomorrow. That tomorrow can literally be tomorrow based on a fall or an accident…

What about the way San Diego is as a region that makes this something that makes sense?

Candy: It makes sense predominately because of the climate. San Diego’s climate— we have things that are available here year-round that aren’t available elsewhere. We have landscape that is wonderful. I mean, I can be entertained: take me to the ocean. Right?

I think that San Diego is probably one of the No. 1 places to retire if you look at the whole package, except the real estate. … You have La Jolla, you have Scripps Ranch, you have Hillcrest, you have Mission Hills and you have Tierrasanta. Each one of them has their own identity, and in that respect we’re mini-regions within a larger region. There are things that develop within those that make it kind of a natural, and make it a little bit easier to get yourselves organized.

What is that here?

Candy: Some kind of a family community.

So this would kind of be an extension of family as the project goes.

Candy: Yes, and hopefully we will either attract others, and we have already, by the way, attracted people to this community because of what we have in place, but also I think making people aware that, “Hey, this is going to be available for my parents. That makes me feel better.”

Who are you looking at attracting, mainly?

Susan: Age 50 and older. Fully engaged adults who are in their careers, perhaps their kids have grown already or they don’t have children. But they’re fully engaged in their adult lives and need concierge service of a variety of kinds. Really, not easy to find around here. The older couples whose kids have moved, you know, the kids are gone, and they’re getting ready to look out. “Oh, I don’t want my husband putting away the Christmas ornaments or be on that ladder, hanging out the window, cleaning out the gutters.”

It’s these issues of aging…

Susan: Maturing and aging, yeah. We have a long life ahead of us, and we want it to be free of those kinds of problems that can either hold us back, because we did them and we shouldn’t have, or that allow us to go and travel and be what we want to be for as long as we can be because there’s someone here we trust to do the things we need to get done while we’re gone. You don’t have to get old. We do have to get older, but you don’t have to get old.

So it’s about preserving that quality of life that you see in your lives now, forever.

Candy: Independence. Having what you want. Living the life you want to live.

— Interview by KELLY BENNETT

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