By CATHY DYSON THE FREE LANCE–STAR Jan 19, 2019
Marguerite Badger faces a dilemma that many adults may experience as they get older. She wants to stay as long as possible in her home, in the Lake of the Woods community of Orange County, but her grown children in Northern Virginia worry about her. They don’t want her climbing a ladder to pull leaves out of the gutter or to change light bulbs. Because she lives alone, Badger is nervous about hiring contractors she doesn’t know so repairs of broken doorbells or leaky toilets often go undone.
A program called LOWLINC (Lake of the Woods—Living Independently in Our Community) seems to solve all the problems. Seniors like Badger, who’s 83 and doesn’t like the way people put so much emphasis on age, pay an annual membership. The fee of $500 per household or $400 per individual covers the program’s operational expenses and only paid employee, Stacey Madigan, who takes calls from members.
She schedules the group’s volunteers, who visit and perform a variety of services. As part of basic home maintenance, they change filters in furnaces and batteries in smoke detectors, clear snow from steps or move furniture, hang photos or do simple plumbing and electrical repairs.
Volunteers also drive members to local doctors’ appointments, pick up mail, medicine or groceries and pay “friendly visits” in which they spend an hour or two talking, playing cards or watching TV.
The more Badger finds out about the nonprofit program, the more she likes it.
“It just makes you feel really secure,” she said, adding that she knows her children mean well, but she’s not ready to move. “I didn’t think it was fair of me to make them worry, either, but if I can do this, it makes all of us happy.”
That’s the purpose of the “village movement,” an effort that makes it possible for seniors to stay independent longer. The movement started in Boston more than 15 years ago and has developed into an organization called the Village to Village Network with more than 200 programs nationwide and another 150 in the works.
LOWLINC started offering services in 2016, two years after residents Mary-Jane Atwater, Jeff Flynn and Joe Sakole began talking about ways to bring such a program to their community. Atwater was involved with a similar program in Alexandria, and Flynn often heard from residents who simply couldn’t keep up with home maintenance as they got older.
“I knew where they were coming from when they said they don’t want to move,” Flynn said. “I’ve lived here forever and I love it. I don’t want to move, either.”
About one-third of LOW’s 8,000 residents are over 65, so the trio sent out a survey to the community’s older population. It asked, among other things, what kind of services seniors could use and if they would be willing to pay for them.
The organizers knew that its cadre of retired workers could volunteer to do the legwork, but the program would need funding to cover insurance, a phone line, the salary of a part-time coordinator and background checks on all the volunteers who would be going into peoples’ homes.
LOWLINC also offers a list of about 60 local service providers who can do more complicated repairs. Volunteers have checked out their credentials.
The program has grown steadily as 90 older volunteers provide assistance to 71 older members. Most volunteers are in their 70s and are active older adults such as Rick Rappoport, who visited Badger’s home recently. He spent 40 years in law enforcement in Fairfax, working for both the county and city police departments.
“When we go in and do things for people, they are so grateful for the little things” like changing light bulbs or replacing a toilet flapper valve, he said. “It’s like their life has changed.”
Eileen Appleyard gets the same reception from Lynn and Carol Hein, who both have health issues and use walkers. She brings their mail twice a week, takes Carol Hein grocery shopping and helps around the house, when the two aren’t chatting about people and places they know in the Midwest.
“She thanks me profusely every time I come,” Appleyard said. “She says, ‘You don’t know how much I look forward to your coming, and thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“And I hug her, too,” Carol Hein added.
Alice Ann Halverson, 81, is both a member and a volunteer. She calls a neighbor every morning at 9 to make sure the woman is OK. Sometimes, the neighbor says she’s busy and hangs up; other times, the two talk for more than an hour.
“I wish I could do more, but I kind of have my hands full,” she said.
Her husband, Randy, is 84 and has dementia. She gets some relief from round-the-clock care every Wednesday, when she goes out to play bridge while a volunteer comes to play cards with her husband.
“I couldn’t live without it, and I know other people who say the same thing,” she said. “For one thing, I feel secure. I know if I call, somebody will come.”