There were barely enough chairs to go around Sunday, Nov. 23, as about 25 people — possibly a capacity crowd for the D.C. Jewish Community Center library at 16th and Q Streets NW — gathered around a large conference table to learn more about the ”village” concept, and how it might help GLBT residents live independently in the metro area as they age.
”How can we stay in our houses if we’re retired?” asked Alan Dinsmore, who heads the Elder Think Tank, a program of The Center, metro Washington’s GLBT community center, sponsor of the Sunday afternoon talk along with DCJCC’s Gay and Lesbian Outreach and Engagement project.
Eschewing American traditional — get married, have kids, retire, move to Florida — attendees were more concerned about how a ”village” could help them age in the gay-friendly neighborhoods where they were comfortable, rather than face the possibility of going back into the closet in an assisted-living situation, for example.
Michael Cheek, program director for NCB Capital Impact, a nonprofit entity focusing on community lending; Gail Kohn, executive director of the established Capitol Hill Village; and Richard Busch, director of the nascent Dupont Circle Village were there to try to answer questions.
”['Villages'] are not physical places,” explained Cheek. There’s no senior center, no building. … It’s pulling together everything that is already there.”
In a nutshell, a village is a subscriber network of residents in a particular locale who pay dues in return for services that may range from a volunteer stopping by to change a light bulb, to being escorted to and from a medical appointment. Some services will connect volunteers with those in need. In other cases, thoroughly vetted contractors will be available, usually at a discounted rate. A village may also work with neighborhood retailers to provide discounts for members, for example.
A relatively new concept launched by Boston’s Beacon Hill Village, Kohn says the D.C. metro area is something of a hotspot for up and coming villages. None, however, are specifically gay. Kohn points out that even in a gay Mecca such as San Francisco, there is only a single operating village.
Kohn also shared the specifics of her well-established Capitol Hill Village, which is open to residents of any age. Annual membership costs $500 for an individual or $750 for a household. Lower-income residents can purchase an annual membership for $100, or $200 for a household.
”Dues is the basis of what this is about,” says Kohn. ”The ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ are there, and we want them both.”
That push for diversity points to one of the attractions the village concept holds for Busch, who said the notion of retiring to an area populated largely with fellow retirees is not an attractive lifestyle.
”I don’t want to see people who look like me every day,” he said. ”I want to see a mix of people.”
Busch added that the Dupont Village, in its initial stages, has seen interest from about 250 residents of the Dupont Circle area. A next step, he said, will be a sort of informal gathering to further the Dupont Village’s introduction to the community on Wednesday, Dec. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Women’s National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Ave. NW.