Mutual Mt. Airy explores other aging in place initiatives for inspiration

Mutual Mt. Airy held its second community meeting Monday evening to continue the conversation of how best to help the neighborhood’s older residents age in place.

Anne and Peter Javsicas began Mutual Mt. Airy to explore how a local community might come together to coordinate a collection of services that would enable residents to safely remain in their own homes as they grow older.

A well-attended first meeting determined that there’s interest in the concept and having a group make it a reality.

During Monday’s meeting, around 25 residents came to Lovett Memorial Library to hear how four regional groups have organized themselves to do just that.

Taking cues from other organizations that have already forged the path is one way the group hopes to figure out what it would like to offer.

“We want to see what appeals to people here,” said Anne Javsicas. “We’re forming who we are, which will be determined by all of us.”

Examples

East Falls Village, which began in June 2011, is an all-volunteer organization which provides support services for that neighborhood’s aging residents.

Representatives Hank Harris and Mary Flournoy explained that the group was modeled after the Village Movement, which originated with Beacon Hill Village in Boston in 2002.

Though villages are structured around similar goals, each is different. East Falls Village, for example, has no paid staff. Instead, members help fellow members with the majority of services.

Services include access to volunteers who can help members with transportation needs, household chores and well-being check-ins. Volunteers also take turns sharing a cell phone, which members call for advice or assistance.

The group’s website and newsletter further connects its members with each other and provides a calendar of social activities. Its membership fees – $125 per individual and $175 per couple – are low compared to other villages, Flournoy said.

The group has 143 members.

Penn’s Village in Center City is another, older member of the Village Movement that began in 2008 from a start-up grant.

Karen Vaccaro, who is involved with Mutual Mt. Airy, described what sets the group apart from the East Falls Village. For starters, the group’s coverage area is much wider, running from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill and from Spring Garden Street to Washington Avenue.

The group has an paid executive director and assistant who both work part-time organizing and training volunteers. The group’s volunteers are vetted – 29 are non-members and 19 are members.

Transportation services are a top priority for Penn’s Village members, Vaccaro said. The group’s “Friendly Visitors” program also provides a companionship component. Membership costs $200 per person.Enrollment currently sits at 200 residents.

Unlike the two village groups, Friends Center City has established itself as a social and cultural network. It does not provide services or advocacy, said the association’s representative, Jack Malinowski.

The group’s 700-plus member campus community offers seniors ample opportunity to engage in social outings in Center City, such as a dining club, walks in the park, book clubs and excursions to the Curtis Institute.

Malinowski said that only 100 of its members pay $75 per year to be on a mailing list which gives them early notice of the group’s social activities.

Princeton, New Jersey’s Community Without Walls has been in helping seniors age in place for 20 years.The organization is divided into six divisions of approximately 100 people. Similar to East Falls Village, its members provide for other members, noted Peter Javsicas.

Many of these support activities include opportunities to socialize with each other, but may also include help in times of need. Because of its longevity, Community Without Walls can and does act as a voice for seniors in the Princeton area.

The organization was instrumental in the development of Secure@Home, a program which provides a care plan, coordinates healthcare services and has a 24-hour emergency response service. While Community Without Walls membership dues are low – $25 per individual, and $35 per couple – it costs $350 per year to join Secure@Home.

Reaction

After hearing how other groups have organized themselves, some attendees said they felt more than a bit daunted by the amount of time and effort it would take to get Mutual Mt. Airy off the ground.

Harris told attendees that East Falls Village gained a lot from joining the Village to Village network early on. Partnering with an already existing nonprofit can help defray some of the primary budget costs, such as liability insurance and provide an additional support network.

East Falls Village has also partnered with East Falls Community Council, a civic group. Several in attendance said they’d like Mutual Mt. Airy to do something similar.

Many at the meeting expressed concerns about how to ensure the commitment and participation of volunteers.A volunteer ethic “is central to making it work,” said Mt. Airy resident, Jeanne Allen.

Vetting volunteers, teaching members that mutual means reciprocity, and establishing a strategic core group were deemed key factors in ensuring Mutual Mt. Airy’s success.

“If we want to devote ourselves to this, it will work,” assured Peter Javsicas.

Mutual Mt. Airy will hold its next public meeting on Feb. 28 from 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. at the Lutheran Theological Seminary.

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