Building Villages in Portland

(Past, present and future of Villages NW)

Sometimes, one person makes a big difference.

Villages NW can credit its spark to Anne Andler, a resident of Southeast Portland, who brought the then ten-year-old Village Movement concept to Portland in 2011. She sensed that Portlanders would embrace the idea, and started recruiting volunteers to develop Eastside Village. Anne has a background in marketing and, thanks to her enthusiasm, skills, experience, and dedication, people from all parts of the city soon began asking how they, too, could create a Village to serve their local community.

Clearly, the Village seeds had found fertile ground here in Portland.

The idea of Villages NW as a nonprofit that could function as the hub for future grassroots Villages to serve the Portland metro area arose from conversations with representatives of local funders and nonprofits, who said it’d be inefficient for each Village to acquire and maintain its own 501(c)(3) (tax-exempt) status. Instead, these visionaries developed a “hub-and-spoke” model to consolidate backroom administration and nurture and support Villages so the volunteers in each Village could focus on their members, volunteers and programs.

A new Villages NW Board began developing the hub; over time clusters of neighborhood residents organized the Villages. Villages NW received its 501(c)(3) in 2014 and Eastside, the first Village, opened in October 2015. Our tenth Village, Village at the Falls serving Oregon City, Beavercreek, and Redland, opened six years later, on October 1, 2021. Click here to see the full-sized map for the boundaries of these 10 Villages and links to their Web sites. Our eleventh Village, Rainy Day in Manzanita/Nehalem, postponed its launch, which was originally scheduled for May, 2020.

The movement continues to grow. We get requests from people in other parts of the Portland area and the state, and even other states about how to start, operate, and nurture a successful Villages community.

We were roaring along until… COVID-19 arrived in early 2019. Fortunately, we’d built a resilient network and, through our members’ creativity and collective energy, as of December 31, 2021, our 10 Villages had 673 members and about 600 volunteers, about half of whom were members.

Our Villages have been hosting about 90 activities and events each month; some are open to members of all Villages. We continue to combat isolation and keep our spirits up through online and outdoor events, phone trees, cards, and handmade gifts (including protective masks), and much more. Among many services, our volunteers also are cleaning members’ gardens, fixing plumbing, teaching members about Zoom, and reading to and walking with other members. We helped many members schedule appointments for vaccinations, and provided rides to and from their appointments. Transportation, particularly to medical appointments and grocery stores, is a leading service to members, but during COVID, service levels have dropped and have not yet rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. Yet despite COVID, in 2021, Village members and volunteers in the Portland area collectively provided 3,107 services. Bravo to everyone!

We’re also developing procedures to support current and future Village leaders; help other people form and operate new villages through a New Village Development Task Force; improve the diversity, equity, and inclusion of our Villages; increase the diversity and quality of programs for members through shared resources; develop partnerships between VNW and supportive community allies; and professionalize our operations.

All in all, Villages NW and our 10 active Portland-area Villages have weathered this challenging time relatively well. We’re strong, connected, and vibrant. What an accomplishment!

Written by Lyn Trainer (Managing Director, Villages NW) and Marnie McPhee (Member, Eastside Village)