By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
They often live alone in a rental home and survive on a Social Security check that averages $800 a month. With limited income, some of these seniors must choose between food and prescription drugs each month. Few have children to help them.
It’s a bleak picture that’s only going to get worse as the baby boomer generation and its 80 million members age. By 2015, it is predicted, there will be more seniors in the United States than children.
But a group of area residents, inspired by examples of successful senior housing in Scandinavia, have come up with a new approach for Joplin, creating a community of seniors who live, work and enjoy life together. It’s being called Oasis Village.
“We are passionate about this project,’’ said Dick Weber, a Joplin resident who is spearheading the financial campaign to make the village happen on 10 acres of property that has been acquired south of McClelland Park.
He’s working with David Heltzel, another Joplin resident, to convince community leaders that this model is a better way to care for part of the area’s aging population.
“This has never been done before. It would be another first for Joplin,’’ said Weber. “It’s a business model that we think will be easy to replicate. People would come to Joplin to see how it is done and how it works.’’
Unlike a retirement community, Heltzel said, Oasis Village will be funded by the work of the 40 to 60 seniors residents who live there. They must commit to 20 hours of work per week. That will allow each resident to retain individual financial resources, including Social Security, while allowing the village to operate with no government support.
Stephanie Brady, an administrative consultant and former board member for the project, said some of the jobs would be in the village, such as landscaping, maintenance, cooking and office work. Other jobs could be created off-site.
The housing would consist of living units of 700 to 900 square feet each with a common house that would allow members of the village to have privacy in their cottage and as much community involvement as they desire outside their front door. A common house would provide for communal dining to lower food costs, and would emphasize the sharing of laundry facilities, a village van, a workshop, a greenhouse, vegetable gardens, an orchard and tools. The small living units would be designed to minimize utility costs. Residents would be responsible for their own auto expenses.
“Once the village is up and running with residents in their homes and working, no further outside funding would be needed,’’ Heltzel said.
Heltzel also said the concept, developed by Joplin businessman Jon Lowry, would provide purpose and dignity to low-income healthy seniors through a self-sustaining and socially active community.
“One of the things we are stressing is that no government money is involved in this,’’ said Weber.
“The people get to keep their Social Security. They earn their cottage and a couple of meals a day by working 20 hours a week,’’ he added. “The village gets that income. Once it is complete, it will sustain itself.’’
The concept includes two paid employees — an on-site resident manager and executive director who reports to the Oasis board of directors.
Fundraising to build the cottages, designed by the Joplin-based architect firm of Hunter and Millard, has started. The needed capital is projected at $2.13 million, the men said.
Private, corporate and nonprofit donations that are tax-deductible are being sought to fund the starting and building phases. In-kind assistance will include furniture, power tools, appliances, kitchen utensils and construction materials.
“We will be contacting companies and individuals who would like to build a cottage in memory of a family member or have their company’s name on it,’’ said Weber.
Construction is targeted to begin before the end of the year.
“This is a locals-helping-locals project,” Heltzel said. “The residents who live there will have pride of ownership, and work to sustain the village, themselves and their neighbors.’’
More about Oasis Village
The Oasis Village Board of Directors is: Scott Clayton, Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity; Kathy Lewis, Crossline Churches of Joplin; Jon Lowry, Oasis founder; and Rob O’Brian, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. The group also has an advisory board: Richele Babbitt, Freeman Center for Geriatric Medicine; Loretta Bailey, Allstate Insurance; Alden Buerge, First National Bank of Clinton; Jim Hardy, Hardy, Wrestler and Associates; Stan Heater, Area Agency on Aging; Elliott Hunter, Hunter and Millard Architects; Jack Lowry, small business consultant; Richard B. Miller, Missouri Southern State University; Dan Stanley, Edward Jones; and Renee White, Joplin School District.