New program to help seniors thrive at home

January 21, 2014 

— Carolina Villages, a nonprofit group that seeks to help older people in Chapel Hill and Carrboro thrive in their homes, will celebrate the launch of its member services at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Seymour Center.

Executive Director Dyana Morgan will report on the goals and methods of the organization.

Similar groups have organized at the neighborhood level in Chapel Hill, but only Carolina Villages seeks to cover the entire area served by the Chapel Hill and Carrboro post offices, according to a news release. It also has a paid coordinator.

The concept is borrowed from Beacon Hill Village, which formed in Boston 12 years ago.

The Boston effort demonstrated that many of the services of those institutions can be provided economically at home. The providers are a mix of volunteers, whose help is free, and screened professionals, often at discounted rates.

“In addition to expected member requests like home repairs, they soon found to their delight that they were providing many unexpected types of services,” Carolina Villages board member Nan Rideout said in the release.

The surprises ranged from watering plants for members who were traveling to coaxing a cat into its carrier for a trip to the vet.

The annual dues for Carolina Village are similar to Beacon Hill’s, $550 for an individual, $820 for a couple. Minimum age is 62.

Participants give a variety of reasons for choosing this concierge-like approach to elder care. One is to save money. Another is to keep cherished possessions like books and heirloom furniture that won’t easily fit into a smaller living space.

A third benefit is that older people can continue to enrich their existing neighborhoods when they remain in place.

“Aging is not a disease, and frail elderly persons are not a burden,” said Dr. Nortin Hadler of the UNC School of Medicine in his 2011 book “Rethinking Aging: Growing Old and Living Well in an Overtreated Society.”

“Aging is a privilege of life in a resource advantaged society,” he said, “and the elderly, including frail elderly persons, enrich that society.”

Carolina Villages resulted from the convergence of two groups that were independently inspired by the Beacon Hill example. One consisted of parishioners at the Chapel of the Cross, led by Associate for Pastoral Ministry Victoria Jamieson-Drake. She is the current president of Carolina Villages.

The other initiative came from Bill Herzog and two of his East Chapel Hill neighbors. All had recently retired from careers in public health and community medicine.

They incorporated Carolina Villages, and obtained recognition from the Internal Revenue Service as a charity for receiving tax-deductible donations, the release said. They raised some start-up grants. Among the contributors were Carol Woods Retirement Community and Strowd Roses Foundation.

The Seymour Center is at 2551 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill. The event will be held in its theater, and light refreshments will be served.

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