Cooking was the major obstacle for Jim McNally, suddenly alone at the age of 80 and determined to stay in his own house if he just could find someone to prepare a daily hot meal.
Loneliness was the issue for Goodrich "Goody" Lynch, 63. He was recently divorced, had moved to a new community and needed someone to listen.
The two men were brought together through the Evergreen Institute on Elder Environments in Bloomington, Ind., a nonprofit organization that makes arrangements for senior citizens to share their homes--and their lives.
"Home-sharing" programs are springing up throughout the country from New Jersey to California, as the population of senior citizens grows nationally and the cost of living rises. A proposal for such a program in Loudoun County is on the table, subject to funding approval from the county Board of Supervisors.
Cindy Mester, director of Loudoun County housing services, said a decision on the state's share of the funding is expected any day. But the county board will not take up the issue until the next budget cycle, which begins next summer.
Most of the program's proposed $106,000 annual budget would pay the salaries of social workers who make the joint-living arrangements. The program could begin with funding from just one source, Mester said.
A year after Lynch moved into McNally's home of 20 years, the two have become men about town--visiting the mall, dining out weekly at the Waffle House and Golden Corral. They have their occasional visits from family members--Lynch has a son attending Indiana University in Bloomington and another son in California, and McNally has a son in Indianapolis and a daughter in Fairfax City--but they depend mainly on each other.
"It's like a marriage," said McNally, whose first wife died in 1956 and who since has been married and divorced twice. "He had needs and I had needs, and we just put them together."
Mester said she wants to provide home-sharing for seniors in Loudoun because she is convinced that the advantages are great: companionship, an extra pair of eyes in case one of the seniors falls or gets sick, and less stress.
That was the message that she and others involved in home-sharing delivered to Loudoun seniors and elected officials at a forum on senior housing Monday at the Cascades Senior Center. The day's topics covered rental options for those who choose to sell their homes and arrangements such as reverse mortgages, trusts and home-sharing for those who wish to "age in place."
"Home-sharing might help people to stay in their community and give them more options," Mester said. "The need is growing."
Shuey Horowitz, founder and executive director of the 15-year-old home-sharing program in Somerset County, N.J., showed videotapes of people whose county-arranged matches had brought them financial relief as well as companionship. The Somerset program is open to people of all ages; single parents and the elderly are the two largest groups of clients, Horowitz said.
To ensure participants' safety, social workers conduct reference checks and screening interviews with housing providers and seekers to ensure that each person's idiosyncrasies are taken into account. Expectations about who will buy and pay for the groceries and where to set the thermostat make all the difference in the world, Horowitz said.
"We try to get people to broaden out who they think they can live with," said Horowitz, whose agency has arranged 727 matches involving 1,452 households in 15 years. "Don't just think 'Golden Girls.' "
In the case of McNally and Lynch, it's safer to think "The Odd Couple."
McNally, a feisty retired mechanical engineer who has diabetes and has survived two different cancers of the prostate, just couldn't seem to do anything right in the kitchen.
Lynch, a talkative computer geek who works part time as a stocker at Wal-Mart and also has diabetes, enjoyed his culinary forays but couldn't stand to cook for just himself.
The two men were enthusiastic about the prospect of rooming together--it seemed like a good match--but didn't dive blindly into the arrangement. Instead, in a concession to their cautious natures, they spent more than a month getting to know one another--meeting, talking and considering.
McNally went to dinner at Lynch's apartment. Then Lynch cooked a dinner and took it over to McNally's.
"I wanted him to see that I could cook and it was no fantasy, so to say," Lynch said.
Their stoic facades crumbled.
"The situation is, you've got to give and take," McNally said. "What we do is work it out. He helps with the utilities and the food and stuff like that, and I don't charge him rent. He cooks the evening meal. You get a man that can cook, that's pretty rare these days."
After getting acquainted and accustomed to each other's habits, McNally and Lynch have branched out. They now have a weekly routine that includes dinner on Mondays at the Golden Corral for $5.24 a meal--"I told Jim I can't make a dinner for $5.24," Lynch said--and dinner on Tuesdays at the Waffle House, when the restaurant offers a 50 percent discount.
Little by little, they've begun to explore other parts of town. When a new mall opened, they were there. "We didn't buy anything, but we just wanted to see what it was like," Lynch said.
And for the day after Thanksgiving, Lynch has marked their calendar to attend the grand opening of a new sports complex.
The living arrangement has worked out well, and both men said they wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to other seniors.
"I would recommend that they get to know each other, to know each other's idiosyncrasies and make sure you can do it," Lynch said. "People should try it, and if it works out for you, great. If it doesn't work out, then they should move on, so to say, but I think they should give it a try."
CAPTION: Jim McNally, left, and Goodrich "Goody" Lynch have shared McNally's home in Bloomington, Ind., for a year.
CAPTION: Goodrich "Goody" Lynch, left, and Jim McNally became housemates in Indiana through a home-sharing program. Loudoun is considering a similar one, pending county funding.