Rappahannock’s unique ‘virtual village’

By Joyce Wenger and Madlyn Bynum
Special to the Rappahannock News

Can you conjure up the image of an old-fashioned village? The kind of place where neighbors-helping-neighbors is a value everyone shares? Many would rightly say that such a sentiment is found abundantly throughout Rappahannock County.

It is also, not surprisingly, the core-principle that powers the young, local organization known as Rapp at Home. Its members (all aged 50 or more) are intent on creating and sustaining a virtual village in which aging Rappahannock neighbors join together to have fun, keep active, and help each other stay safe and comfortable in their own homes.

Here’s an example of how it works. When Sue Gabbay moved to the area to be closer to her daughter, she signed a 3-month lease for an apartment in the old Washington School, just to try it out.

“By three months,” she says, “I knew the move would be permanent.”

Rapp at Home member Sue Gabbay is a former librarian who is helping set up a book exchange for members. Courtesy photo

Now, as a Rapp at Home member, she takes part in many activities, including a writing group that she especially enjoys. Added to this, thanks to member volunteers who drive her to appointments, she’s now able to do without a car. And, not only is Sue benefiting from Rapp at Home services, she is also contributing, as most members do. A librarian for more than 30 years, Sue is now helping set up a Rapp at Home book exchange in the office.

Social engagement is key to staying mentally healthy, and this is where the various Rapp at Home programs come in. Member-led groups include the free-flowing gabfest called, “Conversations on Aging,” led by a retired mental-health professional; two “Life Stories Writing and Discussion” groups; and a monthly book group whose recent picks include Catch 22 and the Poisonwood Bible.

Starting with the theme, “Growing up in Rappahannock County,” a conversation with our 2013 Citizen of the Year, Lillian Aylor, kicked off the popular Local Voices series. A more recent example of this program is the joint venture with the Rappahannock Senior Center, in which former workers of the Aileen clothing plant in Flint Hill shared their reminiscences.

A highly popular square dance, organized in collaboration with RAAC (Rappahannock Association for Arts in the Community); member-led walks of varying difficulty through our beautiful countryside; a Rapp at Home ukulele class that grew into a community-wide group; talks by a local pharmacist and one by an MD who makes home visits; a Rapp U class about home safety for seniors; and a first-prize-winning float in Little Washington’s Christmas Parade are just a tiny, tiny sampling of Rapp at Home activities. To learn about current offerings, check out the website: https://www.rappathome.org/.

Rapp at Home membership is open to all county residents over 50 years old, regardless of financial status. Yearly dues are assessed on a sliding scale. Current Rapp at Home members pay dues ranging from $0 to $280.

Rappahannock’s virtual village of seniors was kick-started in 2015 when interested residents set out to learn more about the national “Village to Village Network,” serving more than 200, mostly urban, virtual villages of neighbors-helping-neighbors nationwide. Though its rural setting makes Rapp at Home different from most in the Network, that has not hindered its effectiveness. Whether urban or rural, the goal of these virtual villages is to give seniors a way of staying active, socially engaged, and living comfortably in their own homes.

And that seems to be just what Rapp at Home is doing.

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