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by Latisha R. Gray, June 14, 2010
In many ways, the neighborhood looks like a typical suburban community — paved sidewalks, neatly manicured lawns and plenty of trees. But instead of houses, these Livingston, Texas, residents live in their own recreational vehicles and receive services similar to those offered by an assisted living facility.
About an hour north of Houston, the Escapees CARE Center is the only RV-based adult daycare in the country. CARE, which was founded in 1992 and stands for "Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees," is open to members of the Escapees RV Club who need a permanent or temporary break from the road due to age, disability or injury. Some residents are in wheelchairs, while others are active and continue to drive cars.
“Many people don’t want to be a burden on their family,” says Robert “R.B.” Brinton, facility manager for CARE. “The people here can be as independent as they want without any of the negatives.”
Members of Escapees can apply for one of the 35 assisted living RV spots up to 90 days before they plan to arrive. For $800 a month — $400 for each additional person — residents receive care that includes an on-site nurse, transportation, laundry, basic RV maintenance and home cleaning services. (Water is free, but residents pay their own electric bills.) The RV park features a library, outdoor swimming pool, exercise equipment and daily activities.
Louise Huth, 79, parked her 40-foot rig at CARE three years ago. Her husband was dying of cancer, and as his health deteriorated she was unable to care for him alone. The CARE staff and volunteers provided both hands-on care and emotional support.
“If I had a bad day and things were rough, there was always someone to listen,” Huth explains. “They were a tremendous support, and I knew I wasn’t alone.”
Huth’s husband died about a year after they moved to CARE. Nearly 100 residents, volunteers and staff members attended the 87-year-old’s memorial service, which was held in the facility’s multipurpose room.
“When we had his memorial service people asked me if I was leaving,” Huth recalls. “I told them I’m not leaving unless they carry me out.”
The sense of community is the lifeline of CARE. Member donations make up about half of the non-profit’s operational budget, and volunteers help keep expenses low. Barry Mann, 58, says he and his wife, Donna, 59, joined Escapees after reading about CARE.
“As new retirees we wanted part of our retirement to be about volunteering,” says the Georgia native. “It’s unique and rewarding and your heartstrings get tugged by some of the residents.”
Volunteers work in shifts, and their assignments can range from dining hall duties to lawn care. Those who stay at least a month and work 24 hours a week receive free RV parking and meals. Each night a volunteer is on call to handle any after-hours emergencies. All CARE residents have a call button installed in their RV and medical alert necklaces that they can wear.
“It’s a piece of mind thing,” Huth says. “If something goes wrong, I can call someone. It’s a relief for my kids because they don’t have to worry about mom. They know I'm here and taken care of.”
Huth says she still kicks around the idea of taking her RV back on the road, but for now she’s satisfied listening to other people's travel tales, and driving her minivan around town.
“RVers are a breed of their own,” she says. “They care about each other. You make lifelong friends.”
For more information, visit the Escapees RV Club and the Escapees CARE Center.
Latisha R. Gray is a freelance reporter and writer based in Washington, D.C.
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