The senior population of Rappahannock County, as in many other communities around the country, is growing. According to census data, 21.7 percent (1,616) of Rappahannock’s residents are 65 or older and facing a common challenge — how to live in our homes longer before moving to assisted living or other alternate housing.
To help seniors age in place, some communities are embracing what is called the “village” concept, in which volunteers work with vendors and other volunteers to provide services such as transportation, social and cultural enrichment, home repairs, house and yard work, legal assistance, navigating the health care system, and more.
Longtime resident and community activist Hal Hunter, inspired by working village organizations around the country, has been working on a framework for an organization called Rappahannock at Home. To explain the concept, he and fellow organizers Sallie Morgan and Eve Brooks invited the public to an open meeting on April 30 at Reynolds Memorial Baptist Church in Sperryville. More than 90 people attended.
Morgan, who chairs the regional Aging Together partnership, opened the meeting by saying that she had lived in Rappahannock for 30 years and hopes to live here another 30 or 40 years, but “I might need help occasionally from my neighbors. The village concept comes down to neighbors helping neighbors and supporting our desire to live in our community longer.”
For more information about:
• Rappahannock at Home, contact Hal Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org
• The village concept, visit the Village to Village Network at vtvnetwork.org
• Neighbors Assisting Neighbors: bannockburncommunity.org
• Capitol Hill Village: capitolhillvillage.org
Representatives of two successful village-style groups in the Washington, D.C., area told about their organizations, stressing that although individual villages share common philosophies, each one is built around the special needs and challenges of its members. Dr. Miriam Kelty, president of the Washington Area Village Exchange (WAVE) and leader of the Bannockburn Neighbors Assisting Neighbors (NAN) program in Bethesda, summed it up by saying, “If you’ve seen one village, you’ve seen one village.”
Providing care and moral support
Kelty explained that NAN was founded in 2007 by two Bannockburn seniors whose health issues temporarily limited their ability to handle all the tasks needed to maintain their home. After benefiting from caring neighbors who provided meals, took out trash, shopped, and gave moral support, they wondered if others in Bannockburn might have similar needs.
“Today, NAN is a nonprofit organization run by volunteers who coordinate activities of interest to seniors and facilitate volunteer support services to help Bannockburn residents age in place,” she said. “Thanks to NAN, many of our members have been able to stay in their home into their 90s.”
She told the meeting attendees that NAN’s objectives include supporting the social, emotional and physical needs of its members; strengthening a sense of community; screening and vetting service providers; and negotiating discounts with service providers and merchants.
From watering plants to financial planning
The second presenter, Mary Procter, was board chair of the Capitol Hill Village (CHV) program from 2008 to 2012 and has been active in its success since its founding. She explained that CHV, founded in 2006, is the largest village in the D.C. area with more than 400 individual members in more than 300 households. Three hundred CHV volunteers and approved vendors perform more than 3,000 services each year, from watering members’ plants when they are away to advocating during health crises.
“Members of CHV have organized more than two dozen clubs and activity groups around shared interests, such as opera, books, gardening, bridge, walking, petanque, recycling and cancer support,” she said. And CHV volunteers work with social workers and other professionals to produce all-day or half-day educational programs around topics such as health and long-term care insurance, hospice, financial planning and getting legal help.
Rapp at Home learning from village models
Hunter then presented the outline for Rappahannock at Home, which builds on the results of a 2007 survey of local residents showing a need and desire for in-home support, inter-generational initiatives, provision of available resources and expanded transportation options.
A recent survey of the newly formed Rappahannock Clergy Association resulted in a top-10 list of needs among area seniors, including handyman and yard work services, health and fitness facilities, transportation, housekeeping help, legal assistance and daily phone check-ins.
Rappahannock at Home already has the support of 14 area organizations including Aging Together, the Senior Center, 4-H, the Department of Social Services, the Food Pantry, Benevolent Fund, Lions and the area’s mental health association.
During a question and answer session, participants expressed interest in Rappahannock at Home. They also voiced concern over several issues that might affect the successful implementation of Rappahannock at Home, issues such as transportation, affordable housing, reliable cell and Internet service, emergency communications, access to medical care and technology support.
“Our next steps are to recruit volunteers for the various committees to help develop the organizational structure, determine the budget and financial needs, study existing models, establish priorities for services, and plan for communicating with Rappahannock residents.” He urged attendees at the meeting to volunteer for these committees and spread the word to others who may wish to volunteer.