Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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For elderly Foggy Bottom residents, a new community to ward off loneliness

Foggy Bottom resident Joelle Egger has always prided herself on her independence. But when she fell and broke her tailbone two years ago, she needed help with even the most basic parts of her daily routine.

As the single 64-year-old watched her children move away and her friends’ health decline, she admits she still sometimes needs a hand. Egger has turned to a new neighborhood program, joining a community of senior citizens who hope to age in their own homes.

“This is the way I’m looking at it: I am self-sufficient. I will manage on my own as long as I can. When I need to, I will get help,” said Egger, who has lived in Foggy Bottom for nearly a decade. “What I hope to get out of it [is] the possibility of meeting people and not being so alone.”

The Foggy Bottom West End Village – a neighborhood network aiming to connect more than 100 local senior citizens – will launch Tuesday after two years of planning. The volunteer-based program will offer services like transportation to doctor’s appointments and meal deliveries. It’s meant to help seniors remain in their homes rather than move into assisted living facilities.

GW, as part of a benefits package it offered to Foggy Bottom to build a new office complex, is giving $100,000 to the village so it can rent office space.

Robert McDonald, director of the village’s services arm, is responsible for connecting members to volunteers and overseeing day-to-day operations. He said the program has recruited about 45 volunteers, a figure he hopes to nearly double. About 30 students at GW have reached out to volunteer.

“I really believe that as our population, myself included, gets older and older – we have such a great baby-boom generation who is getting into their Medicare-and-beyond ages – it’s really vitally important for society to help people develop as much as they can,” McDonald said. “People retire and they find something completely new to do. I really believe in that.”

A Chicago native, McDonald worked in mental health and substance abuse programs when he came to the District in the 1980s. He lives in the Dupont Circle neighborhood and served as the unpaid volunteer coordinator for the Dupont village after he retired in last year.

“Each village is very unique. It depends on the community,” McDonald said. “Even being right next door, I sense that there is a difference between the Dupont Circle neighborhood and this neighborhood.”

Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council member Jack Evans will speak at the Foggy Bottom village’s grand opening Tuesday.

Seniors can take trips to museums or cruises on the Potomac River, join book clubs and go to cocktail parties, barbecues, lectures or mini-golf outings. The program is offering a members-only tour of the State Department’s diplomatic reception rooms later this month.

Mary Bernstein, vice president of the village’s board of directors, said the program allows elderly people to rebuild a lost sense of community. Many volunteers are also paying members of the village.

“They retire, so they lose their work community. People move, people die. We live in an urban environment and often, people need help with things that they used to be able to do themselves, and they need a community to help them with that,” Bernstein said.

The group had $25,000 on hand, mostly from private donations, when planning officially began last year. Now the village has raised about $120,000, which will go toward hiring staff, as well as vetting and training volunteers.

The village movement took off in Massachusetts in 2002, with nationwide membership totaling about 10,000 today. Nearly 90 percent of senior citizens say they would prefer to stay in their homes as they age.

Membership fees, which are about $600 for individuals and $900 for households, will cover most of the village’s expenses. But the group also plans to offer a reduced rate to lower-income members.

Eden Hambric, a School Without Walls student who worked at the Dupont Circle village last year, said she often spent time listening to members tell personal stories. One woman talked to her about how she worked as a spy during World War II.

Hambric also gave members technological assistance, which is one of the most requested services.

“They were frustrated at first. They had computers or iPads that they did not know how to use, but after they got the hang of it they were super excited,” Hambric said. “They would brag about figuring out how to copy and paste.”

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