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 4
Neighborhood villages fill a growing need By Barbara Ruben When Boston’s Beacon Hill Village began 12 years ago, Delores Boyer found the concept intriguing: a group of vetted contractors and a battalion of neighborhood volunteers were recruited to help older neighbors age in place. Services ranged from rides to doctor appointments, help changing light bulbs or moving a piece of furniture, as well as a robust slate of social and educational activities, all paid for by a modest annual fee. When a similar concept, Capitol Hill Village, opened five years later in Washington, D.C., Boyer even considered moving from her longtime home in Arlington, Va., to be part of the area’s first entrée in the burgeoning national village movement. Instead, when Arlington Neighborhood Villages began providing services this April, Boyer, now 79, was first in line to join. “This makes you realize you don’t live in a big city after all. You live in a village. It does make for a tighter community, a more caring community,” she said of her experience so far. A volunteer has helped her with computer problems, and she may call on one to help out after upcoming cataract surgery. Boyer is far from alone in her excitement about the village concept. The Washington area has one of the largest concentrations of villages in the U.S., with more than 40 up and running or under development, according to the umbrella group Washington Area Village Exchange. (See box on page B-8.) This article takes a look at three of the more recently opened villages.
A county-wide village Unlike many villages that serve a single neighborhood, the program in Arlington covers the whole county. A central office serves what’s hoped to be a growing number of smaller villages, such as the one in Ballston-Virginia Square that Boyer is part of. “Although Arlington is a small county, we’re too big to be a single village in any
meaningful way,” said Carol Paquette, Arlington Neighborhood Villages’ president. “We’ve been relying on word of mouth, classes and social events that are open to the community to let people know about us.” So far, there are about 70 members and 80 volunteers. Like other villages, Arlington vets its volunteers with background checks and offers training. They’ve found that transportation is the number one request, while social events, technology assistance and maintenance tasks are also popular. Membership costs $500 per year for an individual, plus $250 for each additional person in a household. Gloria Johnson, 87, who has lived in her Arlington home since 1961, worried that her fading vision would make it impossible to stay there because she is no longer able to drive. But village volunteers have taken her to doctor appointments and the hairdresser. She also participates in neighborhood potluck dinners. “This is sort of an answer to a prayer because I didn’t want to go to a retirement community, and I didn’t know how I was going to be able to live on my own,” she said.
A village in Silver Spring Like Arlington, Silver Spring Village is relatively new, opening last September. The village serves the downtown Silver Spring area, with members throughout Zip code 20910. Frances Goldstein, 93, is one of them. When joining, she was trying to decide what level membership to buy. Full membership is $350 for an individual ($450 for a couple), while associate membership is less than half that. The associate level covers social events, seminars and trips, but not services from volunteers or discounts with local merchants negotiated by the village. “I basically said, ‘Are you nuts?’” recalled her son David Goldstein, visiting from his home in Minneapolis. “You should get the full membership!” Without family in the area, he thought help from
the village would be critical to her remaining at home as she got older. Two months later, Frances suffered a bad fall. She needed rehabilitation at the Hebrew Home for months. After she left, 18 of the village’s 60 volunteers helped her at home. “I don’t know how she would have survived without the village,” David said. “The friendly visits are just as important as trips to the grocery store. It’s all just wonderful for peace of mind.” Peggy Gervasi, who has served as the village’s membership chair and is also on the board of the local village umbrella group, Washington Area Village Exchange (WAVE), said that many older residents don’t initially think membership is for them. “You age so gradually you don’t realize
the things you can’t do anymore. It’s not that precipitous. Being part of the village can give you that extra set of hands and eyes. It gives you such a sense of control and confidence and the ability to cope,” she said. Cynna Janus has experienced Silver Spring Village both as a volunteer and a recipient of services after a car accident. Volunteers helped moved clothes to her attic and even decorated her Christmas tree when she had trouble walking. On the other side of the coin, Janus has helped members declutter and downsize, whittling down decades of possessions. “You’re being given a window to someone else’s life, what they’ve held onto, what See VILLAGES, page B-8
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