A Community Built On a Shared Need

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nobody moved to southern Fairfax County 30 years ago for the neighborhood, because there was no neighborhood. People bought houses on the fringes of horse farms to get away from everything.

But those folks are older now, and they're missing something -- neighbors to lend a hand, offer a ride to the grocery store or drop by to say hello. To remain in the homes they have long enjoyed, residents are creating a new kind of village.

Following the lead of nationally known Beacon Hill Village in Boston, residents have formed an organization that would stitch their lives closer together and offer a variety of services that might allow them to hang on to their lifestyle as they age. Known as Clifton-Fairfax Station Transition in Place Services, it is one of a half-dozen of such grass-roots organizations forming in the Washington region and across the country as America's baby boomers age together.

For an annual fee, these organizations use a small professional staff and volunteers to arrange members' transportation to the doctor's office or the grocery store, to find in-home medical care or to compile a list of reliable contractors who do home repairs at a discount. Modeled on the idea of a hotel's concierge service or a village's face-to-face volunteerism, the organization is part of a broader strategy to promote "aging in place" as an alternative to retirement homes.

The village movement is attracting attention as the leading edge of baby boomers reaches 65 in 2011. The idea appeals to people who want to stay in their homes as they grow older, a group that surveys estimate is 90 percent of the elderly. The approach can help the pocketbook, and the faltering economy has given the concept a new urgency.

In the Washington region, Capitol Hill Village in the District is the only fully operating village so far, serving 260 people. It celebrates its first year this month. Four such villages are developing in Montgomery County, including in Burning Tree and Fallsmead. The District has at least one more, including Palisades Village, which is looking for an executive director. The Clifton-Fairfax Station village will begin operating in January. Mount Vernon at Home, a similar organization in Fairfax's inner suburbs, plans to start up in spring.

"This is the urban equivalent of barn-raising," said Palisades Village President Andrew Mollison, whose organization will begin phasing in operations before the end of the year.

The model has been used mostly in urban and suburban communities, where transportation and other services are more accessible. The Clifton-Fairfax Station village organizers hope the secluded homes that long ago had been connected by horse trails and two-lane highways will be linked by a round-the-clock telephone call center.

"This is where I've lived now for 40 years. I don't want to move," said David Smith, who came to Clifton Presbyterian Church one Sunday evening last month for the Clifton launch. "Out here, we live sort of independently. And that's one of the problems we're facing."

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Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House when Shirley Davis and her husband bought the general store at Wolf Run Shoals and Clifton roads. The store had been at that crossroads, in one form or another, since the late 1800s, and it was a good place for getting to know people.

"When I first got here, you knew almost everybody who went up the road in a car," said Davis, 76. There was no need for an organization to look out for one another. It was something people just did. Now, Davis lives alone in a stone house across from the store that still bears the family name.

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