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Neighbors Helping Neighbors: A Qualitative Study of Villages Operating in the District of Columbia

AARP has conducted numerous studies on long-term care in the last five years. One important and consistent finding from these studies is that most people want to “age in place” or remain in their homes as they age. Grassroots organizations called “Villages” are emerging in communities across the country to help make this a viable option. Villages help people remain safely and comfortably at home – and socially connected to their neighborhoods – even as their physical needs change.

The AARP District of Columbia Office commissioned this qualitative study of Villages operating in the District of Columbia.  Five Villages agreed to participate: Capitol Hill Village, Dupont Circle Village, Kalorama Village, Northwest Neighbors Village, and Palisades Village. The study had three components: a questionnaire, in-depth interviews, and discussion groups.

One central theme identified was the lack of a “national voice” for Villages. Such a voice could raise awareness of the role Villages play in helping people stay in their homes as they age and could build a nationwide expectation that every community needs a Village.

A summary of key best practices and recommendations include the following:

  • When starting a new Village, be flexible and open to change – adopt a “learn as you go” philosophy.
  • Make sure you have the right mix of people on your board – experts in business, sales, fundraising, legal issues, finance, and local government, as well as a cheerleader.
  • Use one-on-one conversations, such as small group dinners, to effectively recruit new members.
  • Seek in-kind donations of office space and bookkeeping, and if possible, pool resources with other Villages nearby for common needs like bookkeeping and insurance.
  • Offer a “membership plus” program or reduced membership fee for people in neighborhoods with low incomes.
  • Find ways to recognize volunteers.
  • Communicate with members via email and phone – shown to be the most effective communication channels.

In August 2009, each Village was mailed a questionnaire seeking information about their basic operations.  In mid-August, Woelfel Research conducted in-depth interviews with 12 Village board members, 9 volunteers, and 24 Village members.  These interviewees were self-selected by their Village.  In September, separate discussion group meetings were held with board members, volunteers, and Village staff.  These meetings were professionally moderated by Alan Newman Research. For more information, contact Terri Guengerich at 202-434-6306. (15 pages)