Say you saw it in the Beacon | Housing Options
WA S H I N G T O N B E A C O N — J U L Y 2 0 1 3
Villages sprouting throughout metro area By Barbara Ruben When an 87-year-old Northwest Washington resident undergoing cancer treatment learned that she would have to move out of her apartment for several weeks so that the building could repair a water leak in the wall, she was at a loss of what to do. That’s where an organization called Northwest Neighbors Village stepped in, finding her a place to stay, providing meals, and even packing up fragile glassware she had inherited before work began at her apartment. Northwest Neighbors is just one local example of the “villages” that are springing up around the country, in which neighbors in a community band together to provide or secure services enabling residents to remain in their homes as they age. Northwest Neighbors has community volunteers who help their neighbors with all sorts of things — from changing light bulbs, to getting to doctor appointments or the store, to figuring out how to use a new computer or phone. The community also offers referrals to vetted service providers and organizes social events. Marianna Blagburn, executive director of the village, said so many eager volunteers have come forward that some are disappointed they aren’t needed to help on a near-daily basis. The village covers a sprawling area of Northwest Washington, including Friendship Heights, Tenleytown, Chevy Chase and N. Cleveland Park. “Social capital is on the rise throughout the country. In our area in particular, we’ve seen a great response to a ‘neighbors helping neighbors’ model,” she said.
A hotbed of village activity In the Washington area, there are nearly 40 such village programs either up and running or under development. “Villages have caught on in the Washing-
ton area probably because a lot of people choose to stay here as they get older,” said Miriam Kelty, one of the founders of Bannockburn Neighbors Assisting Neighbors in Bethesda, Md. Bannockburn is an intergenerational allvolunteer effort, providing help with transportation, household chores, friendly visiting and equipment loans. According to a neighborhood survey, about a quarter of the residents in the 300home community are between 56 and 80, and 7 percent are over 80. So the expectation might have been that younger residents would mostly be assisting older ones. Kelty wanted to keep the project open to helping all residents, but she was still amused to find that tops on the list of “equipment loans” were not canes and wheelchairs, but rather high chairs and strollers. While many villages around the country charge an annual fee to support a paid “concierge,” Kelty said their village purposely adheres to a model in which membership is free to everyone. Even in their relatively affluent neighborhood they don’t want people to feel they can’t get a service because they can’t pay for it. Members of Chevy Chase at Home Village, on the other hand, pay $500 per year for a full household membership, while a membership with limited services costs $250. The Chevy Chase village has two part-time staff members who are paid. Membership chair Steve Schmal doesn’t yet need services himself, and he volunteers by helping drive residents to church and doctor appointments. “We loved the neighborhood, and we’re getting older. When I heard about it, it just seemed right. We know other people who have chosen other options. I have a cousin who lives in Leisure World, but Leisure World is not for us. We prefer to live in a
community that’s much more diverse. “Obviously one of the issues is, ‘can we live in our house as we get older?’ I’m in my early 70s, and it’s an inevitable question,” said Schmal, who has lived since 1980 in his house in Chevy Chase, Md. The village has 198 individual members living in 127 households, but Schmal said he is always striving to boost the number of members.
Funding concerns Members of the Northwest Neighbors Village also pay an annual fee ($500 for individuals and $750 for households of two persons or more) for access to an array of services and social events. There are two paid staff. But even those fees cover only about half of the costs to run the village, Blagburn said.
Another village grappling with funding is the Vertical Village at Wildwood in Arlington, Va. The village is comprised of several apartment buildings for all ages, but has an unusually high concentration of people over age 70, according to the U.S. Census. About 140 of the 1,200 residents are involved in the village, which is organized and sponsored by the Volunteers of America and the Arlington County government. The village organizes social events and helps coordinate services for members, such as rides to appointments and help with grocery shopping. Unlike most villages, which raise their own money through membership dues or foundation grants, the Vertical Village is See VILLAGES, page B-8
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