After a lifetime of service to the community, Trudi Herman is trying to build one.

Since last April, the longtime Moorestown resident, along with her husband, Irv, and a half-dozen civic-minded friends, has been laying a foundation.

Their fledgling organization, "It Takes a Village New Jersey," is part of a national grassroots effort aimed at helping seniors and disabled people live independently - in their own homes.

"Irv and Trudi have been a force of nature getting this going," says retired Moorestown High counselor Veronica "Ronnie" Hughes, one of a core group of volunteers working on the plan.

"The Village [concept] is just amazing."

The first Village was established by residents of Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood in 2001; there are 89 now operating nationwide. Twelve are either open or in development in Pennsylvania, and four, including Moorestown's, are open or in development in New Jersey.

These are not senior high-rises, retirement complexes, or assisted-living facilities. They're communities where residents have banded together to help one another.

"It's not a place. It's an idea . . . a philosophy," says Trudi, an artist whose husband of 61 years is a retired aerospace engineer.

The couple have two grown children and three grandchildren, and have long been active in the Interfaith Homeless Outreach Council, which provides temporary lodging, and other organizations.

I catch up with the Hermans during one of their monthly organizing sessions at the Moorestown Library. Trudi wears a button that says, "Ask me about the Village."

She isn't kidding. Anything I need to know about the project or the process, she knows. Probably because she's doing it already.

"You have to have an engine," Irv explains. "And Trudi is that."

'Start small'

In the beginning, "we wanted to help everybody," Trudi says. "Everybody!

"But you can't help everybody right away. You have to get organized, you have to get insurance. Right now, we need volunteers, including young people. And we need money."

Leaders of another group, Interfaith Caregivers, a respected Haddonfield organization that transports seniors to medical appointments and other local destinations, offered essential advice.

"They told us to start small," Irv says.

Archie Williams, 61, is a neighbor and a volunteer. To drive people to appointments, as Interfaith does, requires the sort of money, training, and numbers the Moorestown Village can only dream about at this point.

"We have to be pragmatic," he says. "We're running on less than a shoestring budget right now.

"Most of our services, to start, would be running errands, doing chores, providing companionship. . . . Maybe just sitting with someone for an hour, or checking in to see if they're OK."

The next wave

About 11,000 Americans are members of local Village organizations, says Candace Baldwin, director of the Village to Village Network initiative at NCB Capital Impact in Arlington, Va.

This nonprofit investment fund underwrites innovative grassroots organizations nationwide.

The enormous baby-boom generation, members of which will be retiring over the next 30 years, is a natural constituency, Baldwin says.

The Village concept also makes fiscal sense.

"Keeping people in their own homes . . . will reduce the demand on our public systems," she notes.

So far, "none of the Villages take public funds for their operations," Baldwin adds. "This is not Big Government taking over."

Organizers and volunteers often are people in late middle age and older who remember their own parents' struggles. Indeed, seeing the difference a volunteer caregiver made in the life of her dying father was enough to convince Hughes of the value of the Village concept.

In the Hermans' case, "it's because Moorestown is the nicest place we've ever lived," Trudi says.

After residing in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Florida, the Hermans have lived in Moorestown for 27 years and "we want to give back," she adds.