Across the region, grassroots efforts are underway to make it easier for elderly people to independently take care of errands and chores. But one group is recognizing the importance of mitigating these kinds of challenges for people of all ages.

College students help serve dinner at a meal hosted by Glover Park Village. Photo by Street Sense on Flickr.

Trips the doctor, food shopping, yard work, snow shoveling, and going to social events are all examples of things that can get harder as residents age or sustain long or short-term disabilities. Not having a way to do these things can cause people to live in isolation, eat poorly, worry a lot, and have a generally lower quality of life.

While residents sometimes ask for help from neighbors when they can’t do it all independently, volunteers often step in and help.

This is commonly referred to as “aging in place,” but more recently, “aging in community” has become the preferred term because “community” reflects the value of strong and fulfilling bonds that keep people engaged.

In 2010, Glover Park Citizens’ Association president Patricia Clark and a team of volunteers formed the Golden Glovers to formalize efforts to help seniors age in community, like seminars, financial counseling, and end of life care. Before they even got started, though, they widened their scope to include everyone in their community, recognizing that young and old residents alike face both temporary and permanent conditions that could force them away from independent living.

Very soon after it formed, the organization shed “Golden” from its name and started calling itself Glover Park Village because, as a participant in Washington Area Villages Exchange (WAVE) it wanted to apply the larger organization’s “village” concept.

Glover Park Village offers tons of different services

Glover Park Village offers a broad range of services to make independent living more feasible. Some residents need a helping hand with yard work, small fix-it projects and help using tools or computers. Sometimes volunteers help with taking winter clothes out of storage and decluttering living space. They also take people for walks, help with paperwork, and simply pay friendly visits.

Others residents request transportation to medical appointments, prescription pickup, mailing packages or grocery shopping. In those cases, Clark explained that the drive itself isn’t always why someone requests a ride to the doctor. Walking to and from parking spaces on both ends of the trip adds additional complexity, making a door-to-door drive more feasible.

Still others are interested in the home visits and seminars for the companionship and social interaction. Glover Park Village hosts regular gatherings with guest speakers, and attendees often say that simply getting together as a community means as much as the speaker’s topic.

Really, Glover Park Village volunteers do just about everything except personal medical care. Addressing the situations of those they help is often more like peeling layers of an onion than fixing a single problem, according to Clark.

“One neighbor needs an eye operation,” Clark says. “Then, he stays at home at least a week to recover. Transportation to and from the surgery is only part of his concern. We’re working with him to plan his meals and volunteers to keep him company. Before he schedules the surgery, he wants to see and feel comfortable about his daily routine.”

Glover Park Village has been running for five years now

At its five year anniversary, Glover Park Village boasts over 100 volunteers, including a pool of 20-30 available drivers, and provides services to over 100 residents. Glover Park Village currently gets its funding from donations, not charging a dime for its services or events.

When Glover Park Village formed, the GPCA and ANC3B provided nearly $10,000 over a three year period for early operating expenses such as background checks for volunteers, insurance, website, database, printing and postage. Now organization, currently relying on resident donations and volunteer efforts, is self-sustaining. The volunteers report that they appreciate their own opportunity to strengthen the community and connect with fellow residents.

Glover Park Village works with residents of more than just Glover Park. It has triangle shaped borders, with Glover-Archbold Park to the west, Whitehaven Parkway to the south and Massachusetts Avenue to the east— that means it covers Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, the Naval Observatory, and other nearby areas.

And in fact, neighborhoods across our region run a network of 48 villages that meet quarterly through WAVE to discuss issues such as end of life care, hospital discharges and financial liability. The DC Office on Aging organizes four seminars annually on topics relevant to villages.

Ultimately, the village movement is about more than senior citizens needing a ride. It’s a reflection of how neighbors organize to identify needs of individual residents living independently, resolve quality of life issues and build livable communities.

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 30 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.