The Village People (Don’t Worry – It’s Not the Disco Dudes)

Mt. Vernon at Home Village Residents Playing Pool

Q. I grew up in Northern Virginia and raised three children here. Now, they’re spread out across the world – one in Florida, one in Oregon, and one in Texas. All three children have invited me to move closer to them, but I prefer to remain in the area that has been my home for 65 years, even if it means continuing to live alone.

The only problems I foresee is the fact that I have arthritis and cannot see very well. My daughter in Florida has offered to hire a contractor to make my home more accessible for me. Still, if something comes up and I need someone, who can I call for help? Assisted living or nursing home care may be in my future, but right now I would like to live independently for as long as I can, and am exploring other options.

I heard about senior villages in Northern Virginia. Do you know anything about them? Also, how can I plan for the future in case assisted living and/or nursing home care becomes necessary for me. There is no way I can afford these options with the savings I have and I want it all to go to my grandchildren for college. Thanks for your help!

A.  A generation or two ago, many Americans assumed that when they grew old and frail, they would go to a nursing home or assisted-living facility.  According to an  AARP study , aging looks different now, with 88% of those 65 and up choosing to stay in their residence for as long as possible. With the increasing numbers of seniors wishing to remain at home, came the grass-roots movement of senior villages, often just called “villages.”

Since the early 2000s, villages have emerged as an innovative model to help people remain in their homes and to connect with their communities throughout later life. According to the Village to Village Network, villages are defined as “self-governing, grassroots, community-based organizations that coordinate access to a variety of supportive services to promote aging in place, social integration, health, and well-being.”

Senior villages in the DC area are organized in neighborhoods that offer older residents a variety of volunteer services, including grocery delivery, lawn mowing, and transportation . As the movement matures, villages have added additional services, including social work, discounts with local merchants, trips, cultural activities and, at one area village, a program in which volunteers accompany members to doctor’s appointments to take notes. Membership fees in the DC area are usually several hundred dollars a year, and are often determined on a case-by-case basis.

The DC area is actually leading the country in the surge of these villages, going from about five in 2010 to 40 that are up and running or currently in development. Nationally, the number of villages registered with the network has increased from 50 in 2010 to 124 this year, with more in development. In a recent study, the Village to Village Network found that the Washington area is an ideal area for these types of villages because it is a more transient place than many metropolitan areas, with close relatives often living far away. The DC area also attracts many career government and nonprofit workers, who are often interested in volunteering when they retire, in order to remain physically active and involved in the community.

Many seniors who reside in these villages are in situations  similar to yours. According to Barbara Sullivan, executive director at Mount Vernon at Home, “we have a lot of members who raised their children here and the children have moved away.”  The village where she works, Mount Vernon at Home, is a five-year-old village of 190 members whose average age is 82. The Mount Vernon at Home village spans 14 square miles, and consists of services including driving people to medical appointments, grocery stores and social events. The village also offers technology classes and has added care management to its services, helping people find close-by rehabilitation centers and figure out which ones accept their insurance.

In many cases, the social component has become as important as the services provided, and area villages even offer activities such as architectural tours, lectures and performances, as well as happy hours. At the same time, some villages have taken a more active role in medical care. Capitol Hill Village, for example, has a care coordinator who matches trained volunteers with people with special needs. Foggy Bottom West End Village plans to start a quick-response team, training and aligning specific volunteers with members who are identified as needing more attention.

The village phenomenon has become so popular in this area, that Fairfax has designated a liaison to assist people who want to start a village and to help connect villages in the area. Libraries in Montgomery County offer a guide to starting a village, and the county is also hiring a villages coordinator.

What happens when the village model is no longer enough to meet your needs? Nursing homes in Northern Virginia cost $9,000-$12,000 a month, which can be catastrophic for most families, especially if your desire is to help pay for your grandchildren’s education. Whether or not you move to a village community in the area, in your situation, it would be prudent to plan ahead in the event that assisted living or nursing home care is needed in the future.   Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting your assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into a nursing home, while also helping ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Learn more at The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. website. Call 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

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