Susan McWhinney-Morse

Chairman, Beacon Hill Village
Beacon Hill Village
Purpose Prize Fellow 2008

Allowing older adults to age in their homes by creating community-village support systems.

After a career in marketing and fundraising, Susan McWhinney-Morse was haunted when her mother-in law, after being placed in a nursing home, said, “Here, I’m just an old woman. I’ve lost my identity.” In 2002, at age 69, McWhinney-Morse and a group of Boston residents created Beacon Hill Village to give people over 50 the support and services they need to retain their identities by “aging in community,” in their own homes. Where nursing homes and assisted-living institutions typically constrain their aging residents with fixed and rigid programs, Beacon Hill Village participants decide for themselves what they need to sustain physical and social well-being in their own homes. A paid coordinator and six part-time staff members tap resources already present in the community to provide transportation to health care and cultural events; help with shopping, cleaning and cooking; do bill-paying and other paperwork; and meet participants’ other daily needs. More than 450 older people, 75 of low to moderate income, have contributed membership fees to Beacon Hill Village and are successfully “aging in community.” There are now 15 villages up across the country and over 100 initiatives worldwide, while funding and operating models for suburban and rural areas are under development. “Entering the second half of my life, I found myself free to explore new ways of thinking.”