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Senior Citizens Help Each Other Remain in Their Own Homes


With more and more of the so-called “baby boomers” reaching retirement age in the United States, the trend toward “aging in place” is gaining widespread popularity. That’s the appeal of Capitol Hill Village — a nonprofit organization in a Washington neighborhood that provides its members with the services they need to remain safely and comfortably in their own homes.

Capitol Hill Village is not your grandparents’ retirement home. Actually, it’s not a home; it’s a community, where senior citizens are enjoying their retirement years, with a little help from their friends.

For many people, aging means leaving your own home and losing your freedoms. But Capitol Hill Village is trying to change all that. Here, the lifestyle involves Mahjong, book clubs and hiking trips.

Molly Singer, executive director, of Capitol Hill Village, calls it a movement

“Capitol Hill Village is a movement among the community. It started with a group of senior citizens and now has moved to [where] it is community-wide. ”

Self-reliance is key

In 2006, six like-minded neighbors decided to form a group to help each other remain in their homes as they grew older. They started developing a list of contractors to provide such services as home repair, financial advice and transportation help — and they rely heavily on volunteering for each other within the community.

The organization now has 400 members who pay an annual membership fee.

The group employs a “volunteer-first” policy, finding a qualified volunteer to fulfill a request before contacting a commercial vendor.

Don Heffernan is helping a 90-year-old couple fix their phone. He's lived in the neighborhood for 32 years, joined Capitol Hill Village when he was 57, and has not stopped volunteering since.

“The younger they are, the more they volunteer,” said Heffernan. “But even people in their 80s, they are volunteering. I think most members view it as they will volunteer while they can, and maybe never use the services.”

'My own environment'

Eighty-seven-year-old Ruth Mitchell agrees. She volunteers for two hours each week, matching up those who offer services with those who need them.

She's an immigrant from Britain and now lives alone. Her hobby is reading and discussing different books. Being a member of Capitol Hill Village enabled her to form a book club and allows her to continue reading, gardening and living in her own home of 25 years.

“For me, I like to be in my own environment, and this is a crucial word,” Mitchell said. “I like to control my life and my environment, and that’s what I get out of it.”

Capitol Hill Village is allowing more and more senior citizens to live at home for as long as possible, with the support of neighbors, volunteers and services as needed.

It’s a way for the older generation to remain socially engaged, and to be able to contribute to and thrive in their own community.

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