Our Man in Arlington

December 3, 2013 12:03 PM0 comments

clark-fcnpThe name Arlington Villages sounds like a real estate subdivision. It’s more a state of mind.

And this March, the Arlington Neighborhood Villages will debut as a nonprofit corporation aimed at helping senior citizens “age in place” – as long as possible in their own homes – by creating neighborhood-based networks made up mostly of volunteers.

These will be multigenerational partners, really, willing to help an elderly neighbor with paperwork, medical appointments, balky computers, access to social services and transport to social events. All arranged and provided for a modest member benefits fee.

Arlington’s village project has been in the works for two years, I was told by co-chair Carol Paquette, a former federal program manager who’s lived in the county for 48 years. Since the worldwide movement began in 2001, 89 villages have been formed in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, with 120 more in preparation. About 36 exist or are being planned in the Washington area.

“I love Arlington and intend to continue living here,” Paquette says. “So I will make good use of the villages, being unmarried at this point. I have many friends who feel the same way. We raised our families here.”

Because greater Washington is “a fairly transient area, a lot of people’s families do not live here and are not in a position to provide the support” an elderly person needs to age in place, she adds.

The villages project team began with a half-dozen volunteers boasting decades of professional experience who have since grown to 28. They get plenty of support from Barbara Karro, the liaison from the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks, which helped refine the concept under the auspices of its Wisdom Works reach-out initiative to the 50-and-older set.

“The county provides meeting space, printing and duplication services” while also performing background checks on volunteers, Paquette says.

One obstacle for planners is the wariness many express toward falling back on the same legal or business career skills that they had hoped to let go after retirement. But they pressed ahead to come up with a hard-nosed business plan that ambitiously attempts something not done in other area villages – servicing the entire county rather than just select neighborhoods.

“Based on the experience of other villages and the nature of the operation we envision, the bottom line was that it’s not sustainable or scalable” without charging some fees to support a small paid staff to organize the volunteers who provide the services, Paquette says. Subsidized fees will be available to lower-income participants.

In the run-up to the March launch, the villages team is making public presentations at the community centers at Arlington Mill, Aurora Hills, Thomas Jefferson, Walter Reed and Langston-Brown.

Aging in place is not everyone’s cup of tea. Decisions by my late mother to move into The Jefferson retirement community in Ballston and my elderly aunt to enter Goodwin House at Bailey’s Crossroads required each to spend months mulling a reluctance to give up private homes. Both changed their tune, eventually finding that the safety and camaraderie of those well-equipped facilities to be a godsend.

But retirement homes are expensive. And 90 percent of Americans over 65 prefer to stay in their private residences, says the National Council on Aging.

Given community-minded principle underlying the villages, the project seems right up Arlington’s alley.

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