Three decades providing assisted living
When Veena Alfred was a young girl in India, she first experienced the joy of taking care of others. Raised in her grandparents’ stately home, Alfred and her five siblings grew accustomed to welcoming her grandmother’s friends as if they were bonus grandparents.
“When these elderly women came, we were assigned certain chores,” Alfred remembered in an interview with the Beacon. “‘Go cut that grandmother’s hair, go bring that grandmother to the garden.’ We never questioned it — how come people have two pairs of grandparents, and we have so many? We were happy to run and help.”
Alfred demonstrated kindness and competence, which her grandparents saw as her life’s calling.
“My grandmother used to tell me, ‘When you grow old, you make a home for the elderly.’”
That’s exactly what Alfred did. Now 74, Alfred is CEO of AlfredHouse, an assisted living company that is celebrating 30 years of service this year, with 10 facilities in the Washington area. The boutique assisted living company provides behavioral care, memory care, respite and short-term care and personal care services.
“We go beyond ‘textbook’ service and are proud to be known as a ‘business entity with a heart,’” the company said in a statement.
Starting over in America
In India, with a grandfather who was a state physician and a grandmother who founded schools for women, Alfred was exposed to a good education and entrepreneurship.
She became a sociolinguistics professor and decided at age 34, fleeing an abusive marriage, to move to the United States. Unable to find a teaching position at an American university, she instead found a job caring for people with disabilities.
Alfred, mother of three boys, worked two jobs, one as counselor at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute of Washington, D.C., the other in a renowned immigration attorneys’ office.
In 10 years, she managed to save enough money for a deposit on a house that would fulfill her childhood dream.
A real estate agent and friend of Alfred spotted a 16-bedroom house on Cashell Road in Rockville, Maryland, near Olney. She called her and said, “Veena, you’ve been wanting to do this. This is just the house for you,” according to Alfred.
In August 1992, Alfred purchased the run-down property, fixed it up, and began by housing just two residents. It became one of the first group homes in Montgomery County.
“It was not in good condition, but at least I could build on it. The basic structure was there.”
In a few years, that AlfredHouse filled up, so Alfred renovated her own home in Silver Spring to make it also into a group home.
Then she spotted a ranch house for sale in Rockville and used the equity from the other two houses to purchase a third house, then a fourth.
“Then that also got full,” Alfred said. “I realized that there is strength in numbers.”
After several years of spending money to make the buildings handicapped-accessible, Alfred decided it was time to build something from scratch. “But I had no land,” she recalled.
That’s when a neighbor of the first AlfredHouse — an older man who had been a mentor to Alfred over the years — told her about a strip of foreclosed land next door to it. Alfred purchased the land and sought a construction loan.
“I got a loan finally, and we built AlfredHouse Five. It’s a beautiful building — my own building, the way I wanted it,” she said.
Later, the mentor moved and sold her his land as well, enabling Alfred to build a third building, which she named after her grandmother, Florence.
Several years later, Potomac Group Homes reached out to her, entreating her to manage their properties on River Road and Old Georgetown Road, which they also started to do.
A hands-on CEO
As CEO of AlfredHouse Eldercare, Alfred makes frequent appearances at the company’s 10 properties, visiting one or two of them every day to give residents “a little attention,” she said.
“It is so endearing to watch their reactions,” she said. “I sit with them; I start dancing if the music is on.”
Two of Alfred’s sons work at AlfredHouse Eldercare (the third is a chef).
“I told them that either you use your energy and your intelligence to promote somebody else, or you can use the same energy and same hard work to promote this work, which is so worthy, so gratifying.
“You will never become a billionaire, but you will have such peace when you lie on your pillow at night.”
What’s next for the company? Alfred hopes to build a medical daycare building “because that is a real need at this time,” she said. “Professional young people are willing to take care of their parents at night, but they have to go to work.”
She envisions a small garden and a kitchen. “I have a lot of dreams about that.”
In the meantime, Alfred is busy writing a regular column for the company’s newsletter, which is distributed to residents, social workers and other community partners.
She has also served as a governor’s appointee to an advisory board. And of course, she visits her residents, pushing their wheelchairs or just sharing a laugh, as she did when she was a child.
“It gives me a lot of joy,” she said. “I don’t have a boss, but my boss is my God. And I hold myself responsible to Him.”
For more information or to see all 10 AlfredHouse assisted living boutique homes, visit AlfredHouse.com/our-homes or call (301) 260-2080.