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Monday, November 12, 2012

New potential organization to help senior citizens in Howard County

        Last Thursday I attended a meeting sponsored by the Senior Advisory Counsel of the Columbia Association to present the potential of creating a "village" to support senior citizens in Columbia.  I had blogged about this meeting last week. This meeting was well attended with over 50 people, mostly seniors, to hear how a group on Capitol Hill in DC formed this type of program in 2006.  This Capitol Hill Village is a membership organization of seniors which provides supportive services needed by older persons as they age.  They have both individual and couples memberships. They now have 260 members and over 400 people enrolled.  The annual membership is $500 for an individual and $800 for a couple.  This seems to be an expensive membership fee but they wanted to charge enough to make it feasible to have staff to make this concept work.  They wanted to generate enough members to meet an $80,000 annual budget and they exceeded this amount the first year.  Today the budget is $255,000 and they generated a $50,000 surplus last year.
       The range of services they provide are transportation, chore, homemaking, grocery and medication pick up, tech support for electronics, pet care and assistance with vet visits and finally case work services.  They have recently started to develop social activities such as affinity groups with shared interests, a travel group and a restaurant group.
     At first they were unsure of the number of people who would be willing to pay this amount of annual membership dues but they were surprised to find out that they received enough in dues to surpass there goal of $80,000 in dues to be able to hire their first staff person.  They stressed how important this was to be able to develop the program.  They didn't feel that it could have gotten off the ground with just volunteers.  Most of the services are provided by over 270 volunteers and are supplemented by some limited services which require a fee.  When they started and surveyed their members for services they would need and also to determine how many would be willing to volunteer they were surprised that most people indicated an interest in volunteering more than needing a service.  One would have thought that most people joining at $500 a year would only be those seniors with needs.  They don't have an age restriction, some other groups, but do find the average age of a member is 71 years old.
     Does this work everywhere?  Apparently not.  They mentioned a group that tried to start this type of program in Fairfax County Virginia and it had difficulties with the large size of Fairfax.  Having a small enough geographical area with a high enough concentration of people seems to be necessary for this to work. With the two successful programs being in Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill in Boston it would seem to need to be located in an area with a reasonably affluent senior population.  Does Columbia meet these criteria?  Only time will tell.

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