by David Cohen
Our dog Romeo blazed my trail to volunteering for Northwest Neighbors Village (NWNV.org), an organization of neighbors helping neighbors to remain in our homes as we age.
Romeo is a 16-and-a-half pound rescue dog who broke into prison. (See “Pooch Profiles: An Ex-Con In Forest Hills.”) Since our family adopted him in 2008, I walk him mornings and evenings, usually on the same route, pretty much seven days a week.
Along the way, Romeo and I have come to know the families whose homes we pass. Over the years, I have witnessed the challenges that aging brings: A home where a husband cares for a disabled wife. Three homes where wives care for disabled husbands. Another home with a widowed spouse. More than once, I’ve wanted to offer the people confronting these challenges ways to connect with other people and supports.
Then I discovered Northwest Neighbors Village (NNV), an already vibrant network tailored to the needs I saw.
In December, I joined roughly ten other prospective volunteers, many retired from careers in education, social work, or medicine, in attending NNV introductory training. Led by NNV veterans Jo Ann Tanner and Patricia Kasdan and executive director Marianna Blagburn, the training provided a quick history of the “aging in place” village movement, introduced the NNV Volunteer Handbook, and used scenarios drawn from real cases to allow us to plan for dilemmas we might face.
NNV operates with three components: Members, volunteers, and staff. At the training, I learned there are roughly 225 members, who contribute an annual fee, and 145 volunteers, including members of NNV’s board of directors. Staff members facilitate the interactions between members and volunteers, who live in the community, in the neighbor-helping-neighbor village model.
Volunteers provide members with transportation to and from medical visits, grocery shopping, or cultural and other events. Volunteers offer medical note-taking, serve as friendly visitors to seniors who live alone, or undertake light household duties such as changing light bulbs or organizing and decluttering bookshelves, closets, and attics. Volunteers may also assist in the administrative tasks that keep the network operating.
As a volunteer, I receive emails each week listing requests from members. I respond with the possibilities with which I’m willing to help. Sometimes the assignments I offer to handle have already been assigned to other volunteers. On occasion, a member needs to change a scheduled assignment because of illness or other factors. Volunteer coordinator Leah Penner confirms tasks assigned, gives additional background if needed, and asks that I contact the member to introduce myself and confirm how the member and I will connect in person.
So far, my assignments have been to provide rides: To a medical appointment at Georgetown University Hospital; to “Gentle Yoga,” a marvelous weekly gathering at Forest Hills of DC (the former Methodist Home at 4901 Connecticut Avenue, NW, which also donates office space to NNV); and to the hairdresser. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world, who have traveled all over the world, and who have witnessed history in the making. In Washington, DC, and in Forest Hills, people often lead extraordinary lives! I also discovered that people I’ve known and admired for years have been quietly volunteering with NNV since its start.
Or watch for Romeo. If I’m the one walking him (and chances are good I will be), I’m happy to talk with you about NNV.
David Cohen moved into his home in Forest Hills in 1962. Among his activities is portrait photography; see DavidCohenPhotoDC.com.