Villages help older homeowners stay put

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Barbara Ruben

According to many surveys, most retirees would prefer to remain in their present home in a familiar, intergenerational neighborhood rather than move to a retirement community.

But what about all the chores? And how can homeowners obtain qualified healthcare and transportation when needed?

One solution can be to form supportive neighborhood “villages,” where residents pool their resources to hire a concierge who can arrange various services, negotiate discounts and organize community events.

The concept took root nearly a decade ago in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood and has since spread throughout the United States.

While each village is different, most help their homeowners find vetted handymen, housekeepers, plumbers and other service providers, or have a network of volunteers who can perform needed tasks. Some offer social activities for members and provide transportation to doctor appointments and shopping.

Residents in the Washington area seem particularly attracted to the village movement, as it is flourishing here.

“In the sheer number of villages, we probably have more than any other metro area in the country,” said Andrew Mollison, 72, who is both president of Palisades Village in the District and co-chair of Washington Area Villages, a coalition of local villages.

“I think it correlates with the high proportion of college graduates. It takes a fairly high skill level to start a village.”

Both urban and suburban

The District of Columbia has six villages up and running in Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Glover Park, upper Northwest, Palisades and Pennsylvania Avenue east of the Anacostia River. Another four are in the planning stages.

In Washington’s Maryland suburbs, six villages are under development. Villages in the Bannockburn and Burning Tree neighborhoods of Bethesda and Chevy Chase are already well underway.

In Northern Virginia, there are villages in Alexandria and the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County, while two others are in the planning stages.

“Some people find [neighborhood] kids bug them. They say, ‘I don’t want the noise or the bother’ and move to an age-restricted community,” Mollison said.

“Villages are exactly the opposite. We’re for people who like to see tricycles on the sidewalk. The sound of the bounce of a basketball reminds me of my youth.”

At the same time, running a village is like running a business, Mollison said. Perhaps the most pressing issue he faces is whether the 98 current members of Palisades Village will renew each year.

Dues are based on income, and range from zero for those making less than $34,000 annually to $750 a year for a household with an income above $50,000.

Mollison also needs to determine the best way to obtain additional contributions, as dues cover only about one-third of his village’s costs, which include a part-time staff person.  Among other questions he faces is, when does a needed service need to be performed by a trained caregiver rather than a neighborhood volunteer?

A blueprint for villages

Because those running and starting villages have so many questions of this sort, Montgomery County recently commissioned and published a “Village Blueprint” — a step-by-step guide to support communities throughout the region that want to start a village in their neighborhood.

The blueprint was produced with support from Family & Nursing Care, a Silver Spring company that has provided private duty home care since 1968. 

The Village Blueprint project was spearheaded by Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, and was written by Leslie Marks, co-chair of Montgomery County’s Vital Living Committee.

“Partnering with the county to help produce the Village Blueprint was a no-brainer for us. For the past 43 years, Family & Nursing Care has been helping Montgomery County residents remain independent and age in the comfort of their own homes,” said Neil Kursban, the company’s president.

“Supporting the county’s efforts to encourage aging in place and to help so many older adults fulfill their wishes to continue to live independently in their own homes is a natural extension of what we do.”

The spiral-bound book discusses how to develop a working model of the village, build a budget, and get the message out to neighborhood residents about the village that is forming.

It also looks at how to recruit and retain volunteers and run a nonprofit organization. It includes sample documents developed by Burning Tree Village, including its bylaws and mission statement.

Print copies are available in all Montgomery County Libraries. For an electronic copy, go to http://1.usa.gov/villageblueprint. For more information, call the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center at (240) 777-8200.

Another resource is the national Village to Village Network, which helps communities establish and manage their own villages. For a $350 membership fee, members can get matched with peers from an established village for mentoring and advice as well as access discussion forums, monthly webinars, information on funding sources, news from other villages across the country and more.

For more information about the network, visit www.vtvnetwork.org or call (617)-299-9NET.

For an insider’s account of what it’s like to establish and run a village, see “Lessons learned from a nearby village” on page B-8.