by David Cohen
One Forest Hills neighbor took dictation from J. Robert Oppenheimer after the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. Another neighbor traveled the world for 37 years as a writer for National Geographic. A third founded a school for children with special needs in Pakistan. A fourth met with Robert McNamara to decide how the World Bank would respond to a Greek loan request during its military dictatorship in the 1960s.
Each of these people is or was our neighbor in Forest Hills, and a member of Northwest Neighbors Village, a nonprofit network of neighbors helping neighbors to age well in our community.
I met each of these people, and many more neighbors who have come from everywhere, been everywhere, and done everything, through volunteering for Northwest Neighbors Village. I love the Village, its people, and its mission!
Over the last five years, I have driven members to the hairdresser, doctor, rehabilitation, or grocery shopping; read to a member with low vision; lost badly at chess to another member who played expertly; and discussed the news with a foreign affairs expert from the Netherlands whom the Gestapo arrested at age 12 for helping his father in the Resistance.
Then there are the volunteers for Northwest Neighbors Village. Like the members, they’re an amazing lot: people who spent their lives working in education, medicine, social welfare, government, conservation, the sciences, and even more day-to-day pursuits!These volunteer neighbors drive neighbors to appointments, help neighbors replace light bulbs, declutter homes, or turn on a computer or smart phone; or take notes for a member at a doctor’s appointment.
Northwest Neighbors Village events draw together its members, volunteers, and supporters: wellness and aging, book groups and walking groups, gentle yoga, Zumba, dinners and coffees, painting and music, and salons with fascinating people (anyone for a chat with Susan Stamberg or Linda Wertheimer of National Public Radio? It’s one salon of many, and already sold out). I love the fall picnic and the get-together over the end-of-year holidays. The Village calendar is crammed! See for yourself at nwnv.helpfulvillage.com/events.
Northwest Neighbors Village emerged more than a decade ago from a national movement of neighbors helping neighbors to age well in their communities. One goal: to allow neighbors to remain longer in their own homes with the help of community volunteers. The first aging-in-place village began in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts in 2002.
Northwest Neighbors Village is one of at least 75 villages operating or in development in the District, Maryland, and Virginia., The Washington Area Village Exchange (WAVE) provides these neighborhood groups with a place to exchange information and support.
Over 100 volunteers for Northwest Neighbors Village assist some 250 members. Executive director Stephanie Chong, volunteer coordinator Heather Hill, and administrative assistant Leslie Pace bring deep experience, expertise, and commitment to dealing with seniors. They field member requests, connect the requests to volunteers, respond to member and volunteer concerns, organize social events for members and volunteers, and work with a board headed by Northwest Neighbors Village president Judie Fien-Helfman.
Members of Northwest Neighbors Village pay a modest annual membership. People who need financial assistance pay a dramatically reduced annual fee -and no one other than the tiny staff knows which members are which.
Here is the area that Northwest Neighbors Village serves:
Five years ago, I wrote for Forest Hills Connection how our dog Romeo led me to Northwest Neighbors Village. Five years later, wherever I go in the area the Village serves, I’m likely to see someone I know through Northwest Neighbors Village. For members and volunteers, building those friendships may be the single most important service that the Village provides.