Villages can help neighbors age in place — DC Edition
A few decades ago, it was easy to live out your golden years at home. Neighbors might knock on the door with a casserole in hand, check in to see if you need anything, even give you a ride to the doctor. Nowadays, older adults might find living at home a bit lonely.
That’s where a “village” can help. What exactly is a village?
“Villages are a community of people who care about each other, look out for one another, who volunteer to provide all sorts of practical help that allow older adults who want to live independently to do so,” explained Doug Gaddis, executive director of Silver Spring Village, one of the largest villages in the metropolitan area.
Some villages provide free or discounted rides to doctor’s appointments or grocery stores. Others send volunteers to do home repairs or help with computer issues.
For a small membership fee that ranges from $10 to $70 a month, villages typically provide essential social interaction, too — from gatherings, to bus trips, to check-in phone calls.
While villages are nonprofits and many are volunteer led, they do incur expenses, leading to the need for income. Most also seek tax-deductible contributions and offer subsidized membership to low-income neighbors.
“Most people who join a village are quite independent, but they need a little help,” said Morgan Gopnik, chair of the DC Villages, which encompasses the city’s 13 villages.
“Sometimes that’s a ride, sometimes it’s changing a lightbulb they can’t reach, sometimes it’s a walk or a phone call or accompanying them to a doctor’s appointment so there’s someone else there to take notes.”
A nationwide movement
The first village was formed in Boston 21 years ago. Longtime residents of Beacon Hill didn’t want to move out, so they pitched in to hire a concierge to find and train volunteers to help with small tasks as they aged.
That grew into Beacon Hill Village, which became so successful that it spawned a nationwide movement. They even published a guide explaining how to form your own village.
Today, a national organization called Village to Village Network helps support and professionalize almost 300 villages throughout the country.
There are about 75 villages spread throughout the Greater Washington area. “The D.C. region has the biggest concentration [of villages] in the world,” Gaddis said, noting that there are 27 villages just in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Montgomery County has so many “largely because the county government has really seen the value of villages in enabling older adults to live rewarding, safe and engaged lives” in their neighborhoods, Gaddis said. The county has its own “villages coordinator” to help neighborhoods form and expand their villages.
Sometimes villages team up with others like them to become more efficient. For example, last June, all 13 villages in Washington, D.C. created DC Villages — a collaboration to share ideas, resources and even office equipment.
DC Villages was formed “to better coordinate everything we are all doing,” explained Morgan Gopnik, chair of its collaboration council. Working as a network, the group hopes to reach out to all areas of the city, “to talk to neighbors in other parts of D.C. to see if our model could help,” Gopnik said.
A similar group on a regional level has been around since 2012. Today, the Washington Area Villages Exchange (WAVE) encompasses 79 villages throughout D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
It offers virtual and in-person educational programs to enable members to learn from each other, share ideas and develop ways to work together.
It also hosts online resources and a calendar enabling villages to share information about their programs with other villages. WAVE is the largest such regional village organization in the nation.
Village thrives in Ward 8
Residents of Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8 who want to stay engaged in their neighborhood know exactly where to go: Kingdom Care Senior Village.
Housed in a church in Congress Heights, the nonprofit launched in March 2017 thanks to one of the church’s members, Kathy Pointer. She responded to a request for proposals from the city’s Department of Aging and Community Living, which wanted to support the formation of villages in the low-income areas of Wards 7 and 8.
“We were already working with a group of seniors” at the church, said Pointer, executive director of Kingdom Care Senior Village. “When I looked at the concept of villages and what we were doing, there was a lot of alignment…We could just do more and reach more people” by forming our own.
After winning the support of the city, in just five months Pointer and her team launched “one of only two villages that are centered in an African American community,” she said.
Pointer’s group is mostly “focused on food and support services,” she said. They offer food boxes to more than 100 people each week, and check in with their 54 members often.
“The whole idea of combatting loneliness and isolation — that’s what we target, whether it be games or trips,” Pointer said.
The results are life-changing, she said. “I’ve seen good things happen…I love what I do.”
Help from the state
Sometimes, villages need a little more help and money to survive. The new Maryland Secretary of Aging, Carmel Roques, has tasked the Maryland Department of Aging, which she leads, to find the best strategies to help Marylanders who want to start their own villages.
“The main thing that we’re doing is to understand how to best provide support to help the villages,” Roques said. “There are administrative costs associated with running a village, so we’re looking at providing technological assistance and administrative assistance.”
To that end, the department included grants for six villages in its 2024 budget.
“We’ve looked at the village model as a really positive opportunity to make sure that the local neighborhood [itself] can be engaged in offering direct services, referrals, helping to combat social isolation, really being able to be very customized to that local community,” Roques said.
“Having [these services] delivered by the community themselves is probably one of the best ways to do that.”
Roques is also committed to helping underserved communities start villages. “We’re looking at making sure that the resources we have are targeting those communities that tend to have less resources and services and maybe don’t have a village,” she said.
For a list of all area villages and their email addresses, visit bit.ly/MetroVillagesList.
For the village coordinator of Montgomery County, Md., contact email@example.com or call (240) 777-1231.