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Capitol Hill Village: More Than A Good Time

Cynthia Whittlesey has lived on the Hill since the late 80s. An officer in the Foreign Service, abroad for long periods, Whittlesey appreciated her wonderful community but scarcely knew her neighbors. Approaching retirement on Capitol Hill, she pondered, “How on earth would her life unfold without the 9 to 5 routine?”

Whittlesey decided it was time to get to know her community. She attended the annual Volunteer Capitol Hill event at the Hill Center to look for opportunities to connect. Capitol Hill Village (CHV, www.capitolhillvillage.org) had a table. She joined on her 60th birthday.

That was seven years ago. Since then, Whittlesey has participated in numerous CHV affinity groups, “picking and choosing to my heart’s delight,” she explained. She currently coordinates the Theater Group.

“It sounds really corny, “ she remarked, but CHV “has really been life-changing for me.”

It Takes a Village
According to the organization’s executive director, Judy Berman, “CHV is an investment in your future self. We’re all about helping people live their best life.” Many members have experienced a significant change, said Berman, either moving to be near their grandchildren, having their long-term friends move away or retiring from paid employment. “They find their network is getting smaller,” she said. “Capitol Hill Village is a great way to grow your network based on your current situation.”

Hand Dancing with a CHV affinity group. Photo: Courtesy CHV

Founded in 2007, CHV is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to helping older adults on Capitol Hill age in place. It is one of 74 “villages” in the DMV. It runs on a small, dedicated staff leavened by hundreds of volunteers. Members receive access to 25 “affinity groups,” programs and events. Services range from Goodwill and hazmat pickups to various types of eldercare, which is provided on a fee-for-service basis.

CHV offers education, resources and referrals through a dedicated staff and volunteers who help members live independently and thrive. Neighbors, including older adults, get together and support one another to help live fulfilling lives. Members and volunteers design and coordinate 90% of activities and programs, most of them free and open to the public. And, as in Whittlesey’s experience, the village is changing lives.

Membership can be calibrated to need (https://capitolhillvillage.org/membership/). To avoid turning anyone away, help is available for the fiscally challenged.

Volunteers Are the Glue
Volunteers are CHV’s glue, said Berman. “And, that goes both for offering help and asking for it,” she explained. Needing one another and being able to fill those needs is a renewal of connection. “It reinforces the idea that we can help each other, we’re not alone in this crazy world.”

Newly retired Ken Morris, who moved to the Hill early in 2020, was introduced to CHV by a friend. Morris began playing  both mahjong and petanque with fellow members. The activities widened his friendships.

Affinity groups take members into the wider community. The Board Game Affinity Group meets at Labyrinth Puzzles & Games at 645 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; Mahjong is played at Mr. Henry’s at 601 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. CHV Travel Club has taken trips to Tudor Place in Georgetown and out to the Gettysburg battlefield.

Ann Geracimos hoists the oar as she kayaks on the Anacostia. Photo: Courtesy CHV

Hearing about CHV from neighbors, Sarah Jackson began volunteering in the organization’s office in 2016. “I like helping people and encouraging people,” Jackson said.

That’s an understatement. Jackson took on significant projects. She helped build the telephone tree that kept members connected through COVID-19. She checked in on them, often dropping notes. She still keeps in touch.

Jackson looks forward to the annual CHV Gardenpalooza. At this May event, volunteers spend a day helping members with outdoor spring yard cleaning. They weed, prune and plant.

CHV is a blessing for seniors in winter as well. When it snows, the organization sends volunteers to clean members’ sidewalks. That’s a significant concern, according to Jackson, because DC requires property owners to clear sidewalks within eight hours of snowfall or face fines.

Volunteers are the key to services. They help people get to the doctor or to do grocery shopping, advocate on policy and issues in the community and lead instruction sessions on topics from wellness to current affairs to technology.

“A lot of people don’t realize what CHV can provide for them,” Jackson said, the organization offers “a wide variety of things.”

Membership
CHV recently revised its multiple levels of membership. General membership includes all the social events, services like monthly pick up of items for Goodwill and hazmat items and others. The next level, Membership Plus, adds care services. A subsidized membership is available through the Jon Genderson Fund to ensure that fees are not a barrier to belonging.

Soon to celebrate her 80th birthday, Jackson has been a full-time member for the past two years. It was about time to open the door to some of CHV’s care options, she said. Those range from rides to and from a doctor’s appointment ‒ or having someone come and take notes ‒ to help with pre- and post- procedural care and caregiver support. The village has a 24/7 emergency contact that facilitates assistance.

The decision paid off for Jackson when she had surgery in January. “When I went into the hospital, they were there,” she said. “I mean, to me it is like a family.”

“Ultimately,” Berman said, the village “is about building a resilient community, about people being connected and feeling known, about having support and knowing where to go for additional support.” “It’s about belonging and knowing.”

“You can have a good time,” she noted, “but we’re going to be there when things are not good. That’s what real friendship is.”

Get more information or become a CHV member today! Volunteers are always needed and welcome. It is a great opportunity for parents to volunteer with children. Visit www.capitohlhillvillage.org or call 202-543-1778 for more information.

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