‘Aging in place’ concept takes root in Lewes
In our polarized world, wouldn’t it be great to have a program helping older residents that people of all political stripes could support?
As it happens, we do. It’s called the Greater Lewes Community Village, and it opened Nov. 1 at 225 Schley Ave. in Lewes.
Its mission is simple: Help people stay in their own homes as long as possible. It’s hard to imagine a service more needed in Sussex County.
From the east, the Cape Region faces the incoming ocean tide. But from the north and west, especially, we face another tide: people moving here to retire. They like the lifestyle, and they love the lower property taxes.
But while they value their independence, maintaining that independence becomes increasingly difficult as they get older.
That’s where the Village can help. Recently, I spoke with Carol Wzorek, who serves as Village co-president along with Marty D’Erasmo; and Barbara Vaughan, a former Lewes councilwoman who serves as the organization’s vice president.
“Our motto is, ‘Neighbors helping neighbors,’” Wzorek said. “We are not a healthcare delivery system. We are a system that provides all the other stuff.”
What drives people from their residence into nursing homes generally isn’t illness, she said. “It’s all the stuff of living. They can’t change the light bulb. They really shouldn’t be driving, and they really need to get to the grocery store. They need to get their prescriptions.”
Meanwhile, their children are worried about them being on their own.
“All those things come together to create a real problem,” Wzorek said. “That’s where we come in.”
Sometimes a helping hand can be as simple as a friendly visit or phone call.
“People are already saying, ‘What I’d really like is for somebody to call me up every day, make sure I’m doing OK,’” she said.
This also happens to be a good example of how members themselves can volunteer. Even people who are homebound can make phone calls to check on others.
“We encourage you to be a member, and we encourage you to be a volunteer,” she said, though it’s neither an expectation nor a requirement.
“It’s just that there are a multitude of ways that you can be involved,” she said.
In addition to volunteer help, the Village also vets local vendors for members. These businesses, which are interviewed and given criminal background checks, include everything from accounting to computer setup to home repairs to pet sitting.
A member seeking a gutter cleaner, for example, would call the Village and be given a list of approved vendors. It’s up to the member to contact the vendors, many of whom offer discounts.
Afterward, Vaughan said, the Village will follow up to make sure the vendors performed the service to the members’ satisfaction.
“These are older people who are sometimes taken advantage of,” Vaughan said. “We want people who are sensitive to their special needs … to explain things clearly and not rip them off.”
Nationally, the “aging in place” concept began in Boston and is spreading nationwide. Locally, it began with Village founder Jackie Finer, a retired gerontologist who was familiar with the Boston program and thought the concept would work here.
“It was her idea,” Wzorek said.
Individual memberships, open to those 55 and older, are $500 a year; for a household, which must include one member 55 or above, it’s $750. Reduced-fee memberships are available based on financial need.
The Village, which is an IRS-designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit, expects to derive half its income from members and half from grants from organizations such as the Longwood Foundation.
Office hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Prospective applicants, volunteers or vendors may contact, by email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or by phone, 302-703-2568. The website is GreaterLewesCommunityVillage.org/.
The Greater Lewes Community Village, as its name implies, serves only the Lewes area. It’s bounded by Route 1 to the west, the University of Delaware campus to the north, Cape Henlopen State Park to the south and Delaware Bay to the east.
But while the Village itself may be confined to that area, its “neighbors helping neighbors” concept isn’t.
Vaughan said she recently spoke about the Village at a meeting of the Sussex County Association of Towns.
“Out pitch was, this was something that we hope other communities begin to emulate,” Vaughan said. “We can’t keep going out, but we can help, we can foster, we can mentor other communities.”
Three days later, Vaughan said, someone from Rehoboth came to the office to learn more about the Village.
“That’s part of our goal,” Wzorek said, to help other communities begin their own programs.
Sometimes it takes a Village … to encourage other Villages.