Image via WikipediaBy Howard Gleckman
Nearly three years ago, Harry Rosenberg and his wife, Barbara Filner, met with nine of their neighbors about starting an aging-in-place "village" in the Burning Tree community of Bethesda, Maryland. The idea: If neighbors could help one another with basic services such as transportation and simple home maintenance and with friendly visits, people could stay in their homes longer as they aged. It took 19 months of planning and organizing, but Burning Tree Village accepted its first request for assistance in November of 2008: helping an 81-year-old widow take out her trash and driving her to the doctor.
The group is still suffering growing pains. It receives only a handful of requests for help. Like some similar organizations, it charges no dues and it has about 65 "friends": people who volunteer, people who receive help, people who just want to be associated. It operates on a shoestring $4,000 budget raised from donations, but it has held a series of well-attended community events, including neighborhood walks and restaurant outings. "We are," says Rosenberg, 73, "a viable presence in the neighborhood."
The Washington D.C. area has become a hotbed for these villages. There are six in the city itself, at least two in the Virginia suburbs and eight in various stages of development in the Maryland suburbs. "The idea has spread like wildfire," says Naomi Kaminsky, president of one, Chevy Chase at Home.