For more than a decade, Westside Pacific Villages (WPV) has made it their mission to help older adults feel connected, engaged and living active lives.
The membership organization thrives on connecting its members with volunteers who provide a variety of services to ensure that older adults can remain independent in the comfort of their homes and neighborhood. Some of these benefits include transportation, tech support, household chores, yard work, pet care and more. Need a walking buddy? WPV can help with that, too!
Now, under the direction of longtime volunteer turned Managing Director, Ben Nguyen, WPV is doubling down on its efforts to support older adults with programs and services, ensuring the Westchester nonprofit remains a meaningful place for people to volunteer and make a difference, so everyone, no matter what their age, can have an enriching life with purpose.
This month, WPV will launch a holiday donation campaign on Giving Tuesday and is preparing for their annual holiday party on December 6.
Read below to learn more about Nguyen and WPV in this month’s nonprofit spotlight!
Q. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
A. My name is Benjamin Nguyen, but you can call me Ben! I’ve lived on the Westside for about the same time Westside Pacific Villages was founded, but have been part of the Westchester community for five years. I am a social gerontologist, public health social worker and psychotherapist passionate about cultivating community and creating connections.
Initially, I began studying Gerontology (the field of aging) at UCLA to address underlying fears and worries about disease, chronic illness and death from family experiences. I quickly became passionate about alleviating isolation among older adults, the disconnection from family and marginalization from the broader community which impacts overall quality of life and longevity. In retrospect, I realized that the issues of isolation, disconnection, and marginalization were so alluring to me because of my own sensitivities toward loneliness and feelings of being an outsider as a queer Asian-American who moved around frequently growing up. While I didn’t have this deeper insight at the time, this social issue still served as the north star that shaped my adult life and professional work.
I deepened my social gerontology training to better understand the psychosocial factors that influence our adult development and ability to develop resilience across the life course in response to adverse events and stress. I was fortunate to work at the California Geriatric Education Center and to help start an intergenerational respite care program called TimeOut@UCLA. Furthering my training as a public health social worker, I focused my efforts on navigating the fragmented U.S. health care system, while also examining the loneliness epidemic and various social determinants of health that shape our wellbeing.
In addition to the outer social environment, I also wanted to understand the feelings of loneliness internally, which could manifest emotionally as depression or anxiety symptoms. I completed clinical social work and psychotherapy training at UCLA and Airport Marina Counseling Service, centering my practice around depth, insight and relationships for addressing the sense of disconnection that we might feel to ourselves, others, and/or family members that may stem from a variety of unreconciled life experiences, wounds and shame.
Q. Can you share about WPV’s history and its mission?
A. WPV is a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting neighbors with neighbors to support one another and create a diverse and inclusive network of services where people can age in their communities, remaining active and engaged.
It began in 2009, when Westchester resident Pat Brubaker wanted to replicate the Village model from Beacon Hills, Massachusetts. This model brought neighbors together to combine resources, skills and support to help the oldest members in their community, while also empowering them with the knowledge needed for healthy aging and community health. WPV’s vision is to create a world where all people flourish and grow as they age, staying connected with care and support within their community.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of working with WPV? What is a recent success story for your members?
A. The most rewarding part is connecting with engaged volunteers and older adults who have lived in Westchester for years, and learning about someone’s life, experience and history in this neighborhood. This is very grounding for me. Los Angeles can be an isolating place because there are so many people spread apart a wide geographic distance–L.A. County’s population is bigger than 40 individual U.S. states. It is rare to find people who live and work in the same neighborhood. This can create a culture of loneliness which is exacerbated by urban sprawl and transiency.
Recently, I had a wonderful experience connecting with one of our members who lives just a five-minute walk from me. There was a sense of connection and synergy as we shared our experiences living in Los Angeles, and I spontaneously referred some resources for transportation and healthcare with a local new prosthodontist (Varisha Parikh at Parikh Prosthodontics) in the area that I was connected with via the HomeTown News! I also had the pleasure of meeting and learning more about the practice and technologies, which were conducive to specific care and sensitivities for teeth in late life. It was a perfect fit, and all local! This moment was very energizing and represented the spirit of the village to come together, connect, and share resources, support and information.
Q. WPV relies heavily on volunteers. Can you share about the volunteer experience?
A. Volunteers can help with activities such as driving to and from places, tech support, shopping/errands, chores around the house, yard work, being a walking buddy, pet care, friendly visits, or broad office support at the Village. We also welcome other ideas, skills and interests!
Q. Since becoming Managing Director, what are some of your goals or your vision for the upcoming year?
A. For this upcoming year, I would like to build and sustain more intergenerational involvement and engagement with the Village, and interest in healthy aging overall.
Recently, I learned about the Village in Chicago and its “Bridging Generations Board,” which involved 80 young adults organizing and leading events within the community. There is a book called “How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations” by Marc Freedman, and I would love to operationalize the various themes in the book, including a Village for All Ages (something for everyone).
If you’ve seen the Netflix docuseries “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones,” I also want to get people excited about healthy aging, and the various social determinants of health that can improve our quality and experience of life. As a social gerontologist, I always say that the public health advances in the 20th century have helped add years to life, but we haven’t paid much attention to the quality of those extra years, so now it is time to add life to years.
Q. How can the Westchester/Playa community support your efforts?
A. We are always looking for more volunteers to support us, and/or bring new ideas to the Village. Perhaps you are someone interested in being part of the intergenerational efforts? If so, please reach out! Aside from volunteer support, we are a very small nonprofit organization, so we also always welcome donations to keep the Village running in the community for many more years to come!
Learn more about WPV, memberships for older adults and volunteer opportunities at thewpv.org.
Photo by Robert Higgins.