Is Twin Oaks Ageist?

Many boosters and cheerleaders hate critics.  “There are so many good things we are doing, why do you have to focus on the negative?” Personally, i find this thinking, especially in the context of recruiting for community, stunningly weak.

deviation zappa

I have a long list of things i would like to change about Twin Oaks.  This includes big things like our general resistance to change, our labyrinth decision making model, our failure to get off the grid (or at least to become net zero energy) and our relatively homogeneous class and racial makeup. There are small problems as well – the 5 MPH bike speed limit, our failure to connect with our neighbors more and the lack of covered bike racks.

Somewhere in the middle of this range is our “Age Cap” policy as stated on our website below:

Age Policy for Joining Twin Oaks. Twin Oaks has members of all ages – people in their 20s to those in their 80s. People of all ages participate in the Visitor Program. However, in order to keep a balance of members in all age ranges, the community has decided to adopt a limit on the number of “pensioners” (members who are over a certain age and therefore work fewer hours than younger members, according to our labor policies) that we accept for membership and this means that we have put a “hold” on accepting for membership anyone over the age of 54*, until our average age drops. The average member age changes with arrivals and departures; thus the age limit hold will be removed whenever the average age again drops below 55.
We are still welcoming people of all ages to visit, to learn more about us and to experience life here for three weeks, but people who are age 55 or older would not be eligible to apply for membership to live here. However, it is also possible for visitors who are age 55 or older to apply for an exception to this policy. We cannot guarantee that every exception will be granted, but this possibility remains available. You would need to talk with our Membership Team about the possibility of an exception.

Creating this policy was a difficult decision, and controversial in the community itself. Our challenge was finding a balance between maintaining a non-ageist policy, and on the other hand being able to address concerns such as health care costs for our already sizable population of older people, a culture that remains a blend of youth and elders (and doesn’t become a “retirement community”), and enough strong backs to fulfill the substantial amounts of physical work needed by the community.

*For starters, there is an error in this text, which will get corrected shortly. The average age in the community is around 43, not 55.  But more importantly, despite the careful wording and the legitimate formulation of the concern, i don’t think this policy serves us.

In part because we are at our population cap and have a long waiting list, we already have a fairly selective membership process.  If we are not inspired by someone, we are quite likely to suggest they visit again, or even reject them out right.  And were i over 54 (which i am) and reading this, i would not bother with Twin Oaks, depriving us of a number of potentially awesome members, who we would likely accept if they were just not afraid of our ageist rhetoric.

even after you have been accepted you can wait 6 to 9 months for a spot to open

even after you have been accepted you can wait 6 to 9 months for a spot to open

And to my meta-critics (the critics of my criticism) i am fairly confident that i have spent more time promoting Twin Oaks, more hours of giving tours, more hours hosting media when they wanted to report on us, more hours speaking mostly favorably at colleges, more hours recruiting desirable prospective members, written more positive pieces about the community than anyone who is still a member.

I do love this community, and part of that love is not hiding her faults.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

8 responses to “Is Twin Oaks Ageist?”

  1. pnc says :

    Wow, what a dilemma. How relevant are current benefits from Social Security and Medicare to Twin Oak’s economy? While it’s easy to grasp the “strong backs on the farm” perspective, there is certainly a propensity for younger people to discount the accumulated knowledge and talents of their elders.

    I remember vividly my father hiring a “completely uneducated” man in his 70s to rebuild an entire corner of a three-story quarried limestone building that only had a 20′ x 36′ footprint. The stone mason (who had learned everything he knew from his immigrant father) nailed together alternately-spaced 2×4’s until he had a 3×4 about 28′ long which he proceeded to jam up under the southeast eave before removing ALL of the stonework from that point down to the northeast and southwest corners. I remember looking up in awe as he proceeded to re-set the removed stones and wondering (as a nine year-old), “how does he know it won’t collapse”? I suspect that any MIT engineer or OSHA enforcer would have been appalled. The “old” stonemason did beautiful work.

  2. MoonRaven says :

    The age cap was re-initiated just before my first visitors group. I had the option to apply for membership and it was not to knowing that if I didn’t I couldn’t really reapply until the age cap was gone–which might be years from now.

    Still, I can understand why TO does it. I realize they want a good age mix. It still doesn’t feel good for the people it excludes.

    Again, why we need more communities–so there’s a place for everyone that wants it.

    Thanks for putting this out. As you say, part of loving a place is being clear about its faults.

  3. Rayne Tupelo says :

    I really like this post, except the part where you say that we’re being more selective about who we accept now that we’re at pop cap. I don’t think we’re being nearly selective enough. I heard that you proposed two models of community–lifeboat and space ship–I feel firmly on the side of spaceship and would prefer if CMT let us reject all the so-so people we seem to be accepting lately. Joan V. in this group is a good example of the point of your post. She’s awesome and would have to go through extra process to get accepted. Conversely, (IMO) there are plenty of hum-drum people under the age of 55 that we’re compelled to accept unless they do something clearly and publicly problematic during their visitor periods.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Rayne:

      If you like this post, perhaps it is another candidate for RZK. i was thinking it was not upbeat enuf. But you know that culture better than i do. And i think we are both being more selective than in the past and perhaps less selective than we should be.

      I cant take credit for the Lifeboat vs Spaceship framing, tho i can take credit for popularizing it. See

      Paxus in VA Beach
      24 Seed Pricing 2013

  4. Scott Busby says :

    I’m 54 now. I was 23 when I joined T.O. back in 1983, and was 41 when I left in 2000. I would love to return someday. I hope this policy changes so that I might have the opportunity to return.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Scott:

      Me too. i am working on it. AND it is likely that an ex-member would get an exception, so dont give up hope.

      Paxus at Acorn
      24 Seed Pricing 2013

  5. Shawn Hawkins says :

    I had a dream of becoming a member but that was dashed by a misunderstanding. So I can see how things could progress.

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