Behind the Scenes: There’s No Place Like Home

September 17, 2013
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It took two high-paced, kind of crazy, very long and very hot summer days to film the 8 ½ minute segment extolling Beacon Hill Village (BHV) that aired on the PBS NewsHour in August. But, the people behind the scenes are not complaining.

In front of a very large camera and under very hot lamps, the BHV cast of characters spoke, shopped, drove, walked, fixed windows, discussed politics, planned upcoming cultural tours and exercised. They said they were happy to show the nation all that the Village does for them, by offering the security, services and social amenities that enable them to age in their own homes in a neighborhood they’ve grown to love.

Having received a grant to produce a series on aging, NewsHour producer Mary Jo Brooks chose to tell the story of the BHV because it is “an uplifting story, one that gives folks hope for better lives as they age.”

Laura Connors, the Village’s executive director, coordinated the photo shoot, spending hours choosing the cast, arranging the interviews and scheduling the activities. During the two-day shoot, she drove Brooks, reporter Ray Suarez, cameraman Gilberto Nobrega, sound equipment, lights and the camera around the tricky-to-navigate neighborhood to see BHV in action. She talked her way out of both a parking ticket on Temple Street and a traffic ticket in front of the State House after “I kind of slipped through a red light,” and bought groceries at Whole Foods four times to get free parking. But it was all worth it, Connors said, to make sure the days went smoothly for the film crew.

When the filming began, the story of BHV was told passionately to Suarez by Susan McWhinney-Morse, one of the BHV founders. It is about eleven determined friends – all Beacon Hill seniors – who did not want to move to a suburban retirement community when the time came that they needed more help. And so they challenged themselves to find a way to age at home, and two years later, in 2001, founded Beacon Hill Village.

Now, 12 years later, 350 seniors over age 50 are members and BHV is part of an ‘aging in place’ movement spreading across the nation and abroad. McWhinney-Morse has helped spread the word on more than 20 trips across the nation, and at least 110 other communities have adopted their model, adapted it for their own needs and founded Villages of their own.

When asked if he would welcome Suarez to his home to talk about the services BHV provides, member John Sears, a regular NewsHour viewer, replied,  “I don’t know why not…he already comes into my living room every night.”

Sears, who said he cares so much about BHV he’d have lots to say, did just that not only with Suarez in his living room but also while Nobrega filmed clips of him grocery shopping with BHV driver Bob Spicer and having a ‘badly behaving’ window fixed by handyperson Susana Dorley.

The interviews continued at JoAnne Cooper’s home. “I am different from Sears and McWhinney-Morse,” she said. “I hadn’t done something like this in a long time and was somewhat anxious.”  But the skilled crew put her at ease right away – so much so that she felt comfortable talking about her recently deceased partner.” I joined the Village because of the services he needed during his debilitating disease, and after he died they gave me a full life and more back. It has made all the difference,” she said.

The crew moved on to film members talking politics at the weekly Second Cup gathering, discussing upcoming cultural tours at Terrific Tuesday, planning special events at a program committee meeting and exercising. When she first heard the plans to film the exercise class, Joanne Legge said, “My first thoughts were to lose 30 pounds and get a full body lift, but given the time constraints I opted for clean hair and lipstick. It was 100 degrees on the deck at Beacon House that day…the cameraman was gone before we knew it.”

“There’s No Place Like Home: Seniors Hold on to Urban Independence Into Old Age” aired on the NewsHour August 8 and is still available for viewing on the PBS website www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health.

Connors, whose office has been flooded with calls and emails since the segment ran, said, “This kind of national exposure is good because it gives the ‘age in place’ movement credibility.”  She predicts it will help individual Villages across the nation to obtain funding sources. Because reducing social isolation and increasing wellness positively impacts health, Connors hopes insurance companies will eventually offer reduced premiums to all Village members.

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