During a blizzard in the 1980s, Steve Timlin shoveled snow off the walkway of a home down the block where an elderly woman lived alone. Then he demanded compensation.
“The next time I see you, I want to collect one smile from you,” the now 68-year-old recalled telling her then. Timlin has lived in his yellow home at New Hampshire Avenue and I Street for more than 25 years and plans on staying put. He hopes someone would one day will lift the shovel for him.
He is among about 100 elderly Foggy Bottom residents who hope the urban neighborhood will become home to a village community, allowing them to age in place.
More than 50 villages nationwide offer community and volunteer support to aid the aging by organizing services and social gatherings for the elderly who choose to continue living in their own homes, rather than moving into nursing or retirement homes, according to the Village to Village Network.
“It’s a place that you’re familiar with, it’s the place that holds memories for you and tradition, and you know your neighbors,” Monroe Wright, a senior pastor at The United Church at 19th and G streets, said. Wright is leading the interim board tasked with creating Foggy Bottom’s program.
The village would host different volunteer services, ranging from transportation to and from stores and doctor’s appointments to delivering meals, and hosting social events, like book clubs and cocktail parties.
After receiving more than 100 positive responses to an initial survey gauging interest in the idea to help Foggy Bottom’s elderly community, Wright said the board hopes to put the operation together within a year, and eventually hire an executive director. The project might later base some of its office operations out of the nonprofit senior living facility St. Mary’s Court, located along 24th Street behind the Lerner Health and Wellness Center.
Nearly all adults ages 50 and older who reside in the District say it is important to arrange for long-term care services that would allow them to remain at home as they grow older, according to an American Association of Retired Persons report published in February.
The first village sprouted up in Beacon Hill, Mass. in 2002, offering membership to those seeking an alternative to moving into retirement homes or assisted-living communities.
Villages rely on a system of reciprocity, Wright said, between volunteers and the individuals they help. Ninety-one individuals responded to the survey expressing an interest in becoming village volunteers.
“A young person comes in and does gardening for the senior, and the senior teaches the young person piano lessons or Russian lessons, or whatever, whatever their talents are, they’ve got something to give,” Wright said.
Foggy Bottom would need an estimated 100 volunteers for the program to run smoothly, he said, adding that he’s looked toward other villages in the city as models.
There are seven villages across D.C., nestled in Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Glover Park and Capitol Hill.
“Managers have come to us wanting advice and wanting, enthusiastically, to support it, because these front-line workers are the people who stumble in on horror stories,” Wright said. “The man who hasn’t been seen for the last month and has died in this apartment, or the woman who hasn’t been seen for the last week and she’s in bed dehydrated because she can’t get out.”
The group has been in preliminary talks with the University’s Office of Community Service about gathering student volunteers.
While most villages are geared toward individuals who are at least 50 years old, Wright said the board is considering lifting age guidelines to encourage young residents in the area to reach out. Young adults often do not have family members living close by and could need assistance if they have a child or fall sick.
“I look forward to a group of people who have come to know one another and can depend on one another,” Wright said. “If you keep people out of nursing homes, that’s thousands of dollars a month.”
In-home care helped Timlin’s aunt as she grew older in California, where family members did not live nearby, for about a year before she became unable to receive the support she needed in her own house. But by then, she was not aware of her surroundings, he said.
With 25 years of his life invested in his Foggy Bottom residence, from memories to money to remodeling projects as the house aged with him, Timlin said moving to an assisted living center isn’t an option.
“Home is always best,” he said. “An institution means care, food, bed, warmth. Better than being on the sidewalk, but it’s not comfortable living compared to knowing your own home and your neighbors and your own surroundings.”