Old is OK in Skyline Village Chicago

By Elizabeth Czapski, Staff Writer

At 76, Phyllis Mitzen is — in her words — an old woman. Others might use words such as elderly or mature but Mitzen does not.

Old is OK, she says, and so is aging, provided people have the right resources and this is where Skyline Village Chicago comes in.

As president of Skyline Village Chicago, an organization for older adults, Mitzen spends a lot of time thinking about aging. According to Village to Village Network, the concept of a “Virtual Village” is simple—an organization for older adults that provides access to services, fosters community relationships and does “anything [its] members need to age safely and successfully in their own homes.”

The Village model began in Boston over 15 years ago and has been spreading since. These organizations not only connect to other villages, but also connect members to each other.

Skyline Village Chicago is open to residents of Streeterville, the Gold Coast, River North and New Eastside. Mitzen said other villages in the Chicago area focus on providing access to services and transportation, the neighborhoods that Skyline Village covers tend to be “resource-rich,” meaning they have resources for the elderly.

Because of this, the Village focuses on socialization, so neighbors can get to know each other, Mitzen said. Through Skyline Village’s newsletter, residents find out about local news, event dates and life updates from members.

Mitzen’s favorite village event is the Women’s Salon, which meets monthly to talk about “what it means to grow old in our society.” She said it’s not a therapy group, but a place to share information, talk about ageism and come to an “active understanding of our aging selves.”

The village also has an advocacy group, Mitzen said, which advocates for senior issues. For instance, the group is working with the park district to discuss installing equipment for all ages in the city’s playgrounds, Mitzen said.

She added that “owning old” is something that comes up often in the Women’s Salon and something she tries to do every day.

“There are frailties, and people do become disabled when they grow older, but it shouldn’t mean that their voices aren’t as strong,” she said. “I’m happy to be able to do what I’m doing at age 76, and if I can’t do it when I’m age 80, I’ll still be an old woman who deserves respect.”