Arlington Neighborhood Villages

More than a year in the planning, the non-profit Arlington Neighborhood Villages formally launched on April 7. Designed as a resource for seniors in the county, information on the program and its offerings can be found by calling (703) 509-8057 or on the Web site at www.arlnvil.org.

The Sun Gazette recently conducted a question-and-answer session with Carol Paquette, president of the organization.

What are the driving forces behind creation of Arlington Neighborhood Villages (ANV)? How much of what is being planned for Arlington is being done in other communities around the U.S., and how much is Arlington on the cutting edge of this type of initiative?

The driving forces are the dozen or so citizens on the ANV Project Team who have given significant amounts of their time, energy and money to create this initiative.

We want to remain in our own homes and communities in Arlington as we age. We all have strong roots in Arlington having lived here, worked here and raised our families here.

Arlington is a great place to be with so much to offer – why would anyone want to leave?
National surveys report that 90 percent of seniors want to remain in their homes as they age, so we thought there would be many people in Arlington who shared our dream. As we make presentations to groups around the county, we have found this to be true.

In many respects, Arlington Neighborhood Villages is modeled on other successful village efforts, such as Capitol Hill Village in D.C. and At Home in Alexandria. The Village movement has been growing nationwide since 2001, so we have had the opportunity to benefit from lessons learned by villages around the country.

ANV combines elements of a senior cooperative, a social club and a concierge service. With a single phone call or e-mail, members can make requests from a broad range of services or register for village social, educational and cultural events.

While many services are provided directly by village volunteers, referrals will be made to other providers when a skilled worker is needed or the scope of the service request exceeds village capability.

A central office run by volunteers with oversight by a small paid staff processes member requests; develops connections with other providers; recruits, vets and trains volunteers; and provides all the business functions needed to run the organization.

Although there are many similarities between ANV and other villages, there also is a very significant difference. A recent national survey reported that 94 percent of village members are white and 70 percent are middle income or above. ANV’s vision is to serve all seniors in Arlington County irrespective of their income level or ethnicity.

The way we propose to do this is through a fairly unique organizational structure – a countywide network of local villages supported by a common business office. There are currently several neighborhood groups in the process of forming local villages.

What can local seniors expect in the way of programs, services and new options once the Arlington Neighborhood Villages initiative starts on April 7? What is the plan for expanding programs and services as the program evolves?

The ANV planning activity included collecting needs assessment information from persons expressing an interest in villages. We also gathered information from other villages about their services and programs. Based on this information, we specified an initial list of services to offer when we begin operating. However, villages are driven by member needs and interests, so we expect that over time this list will evolve.

ANV services will be provided by volunteers who have passed a background check and been trained. Some general examples of ANV services: transportation, social gatherings, educational programs, unskilled home maintenance, technology assistance, running errands, check-in calls and a medical companion. In addition to its own service offerings, ANV will provide information and referral to other service providers when appropriate.
What is the biggest challenge right now for seniors who want to stay in Arlington as they age?

Isolation is a very big factor for Arlington seniors. As noted above, 54 percent of Arlington residents over 65 live alone. Many family caregivers live at a distance and are unable to provide adequate assistance.

Affordability is another concern. The cost of living in Arlington is quite high and poses challenges for persons with fixed incomes.

What does Arlington – as a community and through the county government – do right when it comes to the county’s seniors, and what deserves improvement?

There are two important areas where the county gets it right for seniors.
The first is the integrated service delivery system provided by the Department of Human Services, Aging and Disabilities Division, and the Agency on Aging. A single call connects citizens with a comprehensive set of services dealing with basic needs – meals, transportation, home care, protective care.

The second is the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Office of Senior Adult Programs. The 55+ Program provides a wealth of fitness, sports, learning, wellness, travel, and social events and program geared to the senior community.

While there is a wealth of support resources available in Arlington, it is difficult for the average resident to find out what services are available and how to evaluate various service options and providers. One factor is that many older seniors are not Internet users, and rely on more traditional means of getting information.

There is a significant lack of continuing care facilities for those no longer able to remain in their homes. Walkable communities and improved pedestrian safety are also needed by seniors.