Letter: Rapp at Home: A good reason to attend a house party

I was happy to attend the first Rapp at Home “house party” on Dec. 10, down the street at my neighbors’, Eve and Stephen Brooks. This was the first of several home-based events the group plans. Each will pull together neighbors within about a five-mile radius of the host’s house, with the hope of sparking a tighter network of neighborhood support for all as we grow older.

About 25 of us packed into Eve and Stephen’s living room last week, each curious about how we might get some help or help each other through the changes life brings. The hope of each of us, I imagine, is to stay in our own home and live there as well as possible as long as possible.

We learned about the rapid progress of the people who founded Rapp at Home and were surprised to hear that Rappahannock will be the most rural of the more than 200 “senior villages” now being established around the U.S. Another Rappahannock first!

Ninety people showed up for the group’s first meeting, 20 worked on a steering committee and now seven people are on the board of directors. They’ve gotten some funding from the Fauquier Health Foundation, so the initiative has really taken off.

The idea is pretty simple: address needs big and small through a collection of local solutions. A pool of volunteers contribute rides, errands, expertise, help with minor tasks (“Get on a ladder and change a lightbulb in the stairway? We can help with that!”). Rapp at Home will keep a roster of service providers like tradespeople for more skilled tasks and they hope to work with each to ask for discounts and extra effort when needed. Some of our neighbors may be able to offer fun and creative outlets to supply the all-important social connections we all need to enjoy life and be healthy. The plan is to remain flexible and responsive, settling in on some core services as needs become more clear.

We in Rappahannock are proud of our strong community in which neighbors are particularly giving and our churches and spiritual support systems are strong. Yet even our longtime institutions can use a few extra hands. And most of us have seen examples of hard-won independence that becomes isolating and lonely. At some point we all need the help of others, and that’s what the people who started Rapp at Home are trying to support.

Rapp at Home didn’t invent the idea — it’s part of a nationwide movement that supports the basic philosophy of village living to make the most of our talents and instincts to care for one another.

From what I’ve learned, it also seems clear that Rapp at Home is not another “social service” structure, but rather a Rappahannock-style infrastructure to help us do more with what we do naturally: take care of ourselves and our neighbors. Though we know each other pretty well, it adds the element of a trusted place to connect with volunteers and vendors when it counts, whether for a simple favor or more skilled services, maybe after a hospitalization.

We learned Dec. 10 that Rapp at Home won’t be able to provide the kind of intensive services some of our elders need to stay in their homes. And it’s not free. To be consistent and reliable, it needs some structure, including at least one staff person, and that involves cost. So there will be a membership fee, kind of like an insurance premium you pay on a little at a time in case you need big support later. Organizers are also committed to raising funds to help those who truly can’t afford to join so no one gets left behind.

I guess one of the most important things I heard at the house party was that people like me need to volunteer. I’m 58. I do fine on my own. But I have needed neighborly support from time to time — and it’s been there! I love the idea that I might be able to “pay it forward” now to build an organization that can be there for me when and if I need more help.

So you may get an invitation to go to a Rapp at Home neighborhood house party in the coming months. Go! Join the conversation. Contribute your time and talents — or ask for help.

If you want to find out more in the meantime, you can check out the Village to Village Network (vtvnetwork.org) to learn what other communities are doing. Or to join, volunteer, or learn more, Rapp at Home is encouraging people to contact Ken Gray, the organization’s newly hired staff person, at 540-937-HOME, or through info@rappathome.org.

This community continues to provide. And to amaze. We are lucky ducks.

Monica Worth