It takes a village to nurture a retiree

Marketplace Staff Sep 7, 2007

It takes a village to nurture a retiree

Marketplace Staff Sep 7, 2007


Tess Vigeland: Most of today’s retirees don’t have to worry about refinancing to avoid losing their homes to foreclosure. Their generation grew up with the idea that you never, ever buy more house than you can afford.

But there are other issues facing retirees. Like, what happens when you’re no longer able to do the things you need to do as a homeowner, but you don’t want to leave the house? Wren Elhai reports on a new concept called “aging in place.”

Wren Elhai: After 47 years in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, 83-year-old Grover Batts is used to life on his block.

Grover Batts: You have everything that you need. You’ve got your cleaners, your little teeny grocery stores . . .

Twenty-five years after retiring, though, it’s harder for Batts to get around. There are more doctors appointments to get to, and he relies on his neighbors to help him find repairmen. Some of his friends have moved out to retirement homes. But Batts says it’s depressing to visit them. He couldn’t imagine living there.

Batts: I just have this feeling of being such a kind of a sad, bleak, you know, place to live. And I think that I would, if possible, I want to stay where I am.

A number of Batts’ neighbors feel the same way. They formed Capitol Hill Village, one of a growing number of community organizations that help seniors stay in their own homes.

One of his neighbors took Batts to an informational meeting. At the meeting, founding member Mike Canning explained things. Members pay an annual fee and, in exchange, they can call a central phone number to get help with whatever they need.

Mike Canning: Ranging from home care, to taking out the garbage, to doing your grocery shopping, to cleaning your gutter, to making sure you get your taxes done and in on time.

Volunteers will handle much of that. For when members need outside help, the group will maintain a list of vetted professionals. The organization also hopes to offer a full calendar of social gatherings, trips and group meetings. Membership costs $500 a year.

Capitol Hill Village is modeled directly on a five-year-old project in Boston called Beacon Hill Village. Susan McWhinney-Morse was one of its founders. She says while at the start they weren’t sure if Beacon Hill would work, now it’s hard to keep up with all the people who want a Village where they live.

Susan McWhinney-Morse: We’ve gotten 3,000 inquiries from all over the world.

At the heart of the Beacon Hill Village model is that seniors have full control of the organization and help each other stay independent.

McWhinney-Morse: We’re healthier than ever before, we have more money than older people used to have, there are more of us, and there’s no reason why we need to suddenly turn our lives over to somebody else to care for, because we’re quite capable of doing it ourselves. And I think that’s what almost every older person feels, and I think that’s what appeals to so many people.

Tom Nelson, the chief operating officer of the AARP, says that sentiment is spreading across the country.

Tom Nelson: This is a, if you will, a movement that’s taking off. And there’ll be variations, and people will figure out, “Well, that’s not quite what needs to work in our neighborhood, we need to do something a little bit different.”

Back in Washington, Grover Batts is convinced. He signs the Capitol Hill Village membership papers and promises to send a check.

Batts: It’s like a, kind of a dream in a way, that you really can stay where you are — with a little help from your friends.

Capitol Hill Village hopes to have its services up and running by this fall.

In Washington, I’m Wren Elhai for Marketplace Money.

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