Creating Family Through Community

| By Marianne Kilkenny |

The Community Lady

Many people know me as the “Community Lady” because of my website and network, Women for Living in Community. But what truly defines me is my compelling “Why” for doing what I have spent most of the last 10 years doing:

Marianne Kilkenny

Marianne Kilkenny

1) The quest to honor the memory of my mother, Betty

2) The desire to find or create a community of people with shared values to grow with, live with, and care for each other.

My Compelling Why

Watching my mother age in a nursing home was like having cold water splashed on my face… constantly. I was there but it never felt like enough. When she passed away I knew then that this was not the way to end what had been years of happiness and hard work. Honoring the memory of my mother meant finding a better alternative and spreading the word so others did not share in that fate.

At the same time as I was caring for my parents, I was going through my own shift—my long career in Corporate HR was coming to an end. I was divorced, alone and facing my future as a “boomer,” like many others.

A Journey Begins

With the memory of my mother fresh in my heart, my second quest became an urgent call to find a better living solution for all of us as we age. I relocated from California to Asheville, NC in 2007. Shortly after, I started Women for Living in Community, to create a network for those like me, provide resources and information as I uncovered them, and to share my experiences.

Creating this network mushroomed into much more. I explored options I would never have considered, pushing my boundaries and capabilities. For example, for four years I shared a large rental house with other three or four women and some guys. We lived as housemates sharing stories, dinners, and mutual caring in times of joy and emergencies while being mindful of our personal spaces. It’s why I was dubbed the “real life Golden Girls” by the media. But unlike the popular TV sitcom, the journey to finding community didn’t start or end with shared housing.

From learning to sharing to teaching to writing

The shared housing led to other things. I found myself making the circuit among Aging in Community conferences, sharing my experience of living in shared housing while discussing alternatives for aging in community. Gathering all this experience and information, I wrote and published Your Quest for Home: A Guidebook to Find the Ideal Community for Your Later Years in 2014 as a self-guided journey towards answers.

Little did I know how long this quest would take. Always in a hurry for the quick fix, I had no idea the twists and turns my journey would take. What became more apparent were not assets in dollars or possessions, but friendships, companionships, intimacy and belonging.

There have been many times I doubted the progress I was making, but as I look back upon my journey, I realize that the last 10 years have proven to be my own “School on Aging/Thriving.” I learned about the pros and cons, options and alternatives while personally testing and exploring different models. While this journey is not yet over, I have come full circle.

I started honoring my mother the moment I took the big step of moving to Asheville and founded Women for Living in Community. With each blog post I write, speech I give, or with every person who buys my Guidebook and takes that single step to finding their community, I am honoring my mother. I am sharing and will continue to share with others ideas for a better way to age with grace and dignity than the nursing home model.

The quest to find my own community was right there all along. The foundation of any community, no matter what shape that community takes (shared housing, Intentional Communities, Village-to-Village Networks, etc.), are the members of that Community and you can create your ideal community right where you are now.

In the next chapter of my journey, I am exploring the New Tribe; a group of people who share specific values, hold each other as a priority and formally commit to each other with the goal to be best friends. Unlike many other models, this one does not require relocation or real estate. This is the community you create that begins with yourself and the people who are already around you that you desire to have a close relationship with. I invite you to continue learning with me and no matter what, pursue with tenacity.

Take the next step to move forward. Here are some suggestions:

• Attend New Tribe Training in Asheville, Oct 6 – 9 (see our website for details)
• Join the Intentional Communities Asheville (ICA) Meetup
• Subscribe to Communities Magazine at
• Sign up for a five-session Program with me: “From Dreaming to Doing”

Contact information for Marianne Kilkenny:

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker