Skip to content

Villages Take Root Around Virginia

Want to age in your own home? Sometimes it takes a village.

Virginia State Page October 2010

Melissa Golden

Judith Rosen and Tom Foss examine rotting wood on a windowsill that requires repair. Rosen is a member of Mt. Vernon At Home. Foss is a volunteer who helps neighbors with handyman tasks.

When Judy Rosen and her neighbors moved into their brand-new homes in the wooded hills near Mount Vernon in the 1950s, they were happy to hop in their cars and drive. They battled developers who wanted to build shops nearby.

See also: Universal design can help people age in their homes.

When Judy Rosen and her neighbors moved into their brand-new homes in the wooded hills near Mount Vernon in the 1950s, they were happy to hop in their cars and drive. They battled developers who wanted to build shops nearby.

"Aha!" said Rosen, 85. "That's great until you can't drive anymore. We're paying for that now."

Like many older Virginians, Rosen is determined to stay in her home of 57 years. But suburbs such as Hollin Hills in Fairfax County are short on public transit. Fortunately, Rosen belongs to Mount Vernon At Home, a "village" that provides transportation and other services to help people age in place.

The village concept began with Beacon Hill Village in Boston in 2001 and has spread nationwide. The grassroots movement is catching hold in Virginia, where several villages have started or are in the planning stage. One of the pioneers is Mount Vernon At Home, a nonprofit launched last November. It has more than 125 members, about 60 volunteers and two employees. Volunteers staff the phones and respond to member requests.

"People are saying, 'Huh-uh, we're not doing what our parents did. We're not going to be institutionalized,' " said executive director Jeff Reed.

Finding alternatives to institutional care is not only popular but necessary. By 2030, one in five Virginians will be over 65. AARP research shows older people overwhelmingly want to age in their own homes. Virginia's Four-Year Plan for Aging Services issued last November said two factors are driving the transformation from facility-based care to aging in place: individual preference and a shortage of retirement communities or nursing homes.

Next: Most communities aren't conducive to aging in place. >>

"Unfortunately, most communities developed over the past several decades are not conducive to 'aging in place,' " the aging plan said. "The vast majority of us live in suburbs — often in homes that present barriers as we age and located outside of public transit routes."

Mount Vernon At Home members can call as often as necessary for rides, handyman jobs and home technology support. If members need a plumber or other tradesman, the organization contacts one from a list of vetted, preferred providers.

"There's a good feeling when things go wrong to have someone to lean on," Rosen said. Twice widowed and the mother of six, Rosen remains impressively active — swimming one mile a day and walking four. She drives in daytime but limits driving in the dark to short, familiar routes. Rosen refuses to be a burden to her friends or her far-flung children scattered across the country.

Volunteers have come to Rosen's home to replace a hard-to-reach light bulb, stop a leaky faucet and a running toilet, twist the intake lever on a new gas grill, secure the bolts on a tree swing, fix her computer and tamp down a protruding floor tile. Mount Vernon At Home also provided references for an air-conditioning service and a plumber.

Village membership fees vary by location and the level of services offered, from about $30 to hundreds of dollars a year. Mount Vernon At Home's annual fees are on the high end — $800 for a couple or $550 for singles. Members pay contractors separately.

In the rural Clifton-Fairfax Station area, where many people live on five acres or more, Transition in Place Services (CFS-TIPS) offers transportation, help with household chores and help for the homebound. Its three dozen members pay $75 for individuals and $150 for households.

Next: Many villages offer wellness activities. >>

"People out here are pretty independent and won't always ask their neighbor for help, or they don't know their neighbors," said Marilyn Stoney, executive director of the all-volunteer group. "That independent streak might work against them as they grow older."

Many villages offer wellness activities and a social component such as conversation groups and outings to cultural events.

In Reston, a planned community built in the 1960s, a residents' survey of needs took place this summer. A community forum on aging is scheduled Oct. 9; you can register online at or call 703-966-6182.

"The founder's idea was to enable people to live here for a lifetime," said Steve Gurney, the publisher of "Guide to Retirement Living Sourcebook," who grew up in Reston and now lives there.

Fifty years later, the village concept may make that dream possible.

Other villages in development are: At Home in Alexandria (, Glencarlyn Citizens Association ( ) and Mosby Woods Village (

Marsha Mercer is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.