At Home in Greenwich (AT Home) was inspired by an article in The New York Times in the winter of 2006, describing how a dozen civic-minded residents of Beacon Hill in Boston developed a program to enable them and others to “age in place.” Several Greenwich residents agreed that they, too, would prefer to remain in their own homes as they grew older, close to friends and favorite activities — if it were a safe, viable and practicable choice.
So the following summer a few Greenwichites went to Boston and met with Beacon Hill’s founder and president, Susan McWhinney Morse. She told us that 200 others from around the country and abroad had also responded to the Times article (plus one in the AARP magazine); it was apparent that “aging in place” had become a national and international movement. Susan generously shared with us the trials and challenges of their start-up period, as well as the satisfaction of launching a successful program serving several hundred people. The major challenge they have encountered in Boston has been the realization that octogenarians do not want to admit they need help. Even some 90-year-olds claim they love the idea but they’re “not ready yet!”
On returning home, our first step was to ask Greenwich Library to order the Beacon Hill Village Manual, which was assembled to help other communities develop their own versions of aging in place. Then, a growing number of us began to familiarize ourselves with the many services Greenwich offers, and how we might incorporate them into our own plan. Greenwich demographics showed a growing senior population, with 20% of the 61,000+ residents now over the age of 60. And national figures indicate new additions to the senior U.S. population every seven seconds.
Since Greenwich already offered an extraordinary array of services for seniors, we asked ourselves if an organization like At Home in Greenwich was necessary. Or would we simply duplicate existing services? To find out, we met with community leaders — first with Sam Deibler, Director of the Greenwich Commission on Aging. He, like Stuart Adelberg, President of United Way; Dr. Stephen Jones, Medical Director of the Greenwich Hospital Center for Healthy Aging; Bob Arnold, President of Family Centers; and Stephanie Paulmeno, Director of Community Health Planning for Greenwich, assured us that At Home was indeed needed. It would provide a link to existing services and fill in gaps to help seniors remain independent in their own homes as they aged. All these community leaders have joined our Advisory Council.
In January 2007, Bob Arnold offered AT Home temporary free office space at Family Centers’ Bridge Street offices, along with extended Family Centers’ 501(c) 3 status to let us receive tax-deductible contributions.
Board members Gerry Mayfield and Morley Kahn were instrumental in securing our incorporation of that status. We were also given pro bono assistance with business, financial, legal, and graphic services. Board member Betty Hauptman almost single-handedly raised $150,000. Lise Jameson, a licensed clinical social worker, was hired as Executive Director, to start on Jan. 1, 2008. We celebrated our “Launch of Services” on Jan. 28, 2008 at the First Presbyterian Church with more than 200 guests. At Home then opened its doors on Feb. 1, 2008.
In the summer of 2008, we moved to our permanent home on the campus of the Second Congregational Church.
Since then, our membership has grown to nearly 200 individuals. Average age has increased from 78 to 82, with an age range of 53 to 98. Membership fees remain at $500 a year for singles; $650 for households. These fees cover roughly a third of our operating expenses. Over 16% of our members receive financial assistance from AT Home to pay their fees.
In September of 2011, At Home held its first benefit. A Cabaret at the Hyatt Regency Sun Tent, led by Board member Helen Maher, exceeded all expectations, raising $75,000 and enabling At Home to become sustainable.
At Home, uniquely in Greenwich, provides access to the services seniors need and to a network of social connections and events. The services offered, based on members’ requests, are provided by volunteers as well as professionals, all carefully screened by Lise. Of the 125 services currently available, the most used include transportation, electricians, plumbers, handymen, and social work consultation. Feedback is sought after each referral is given plus an annual survey provides feedback on members’ satisfaction.
A Program Committee meets monthly to plan an array of social and cultural events. Some examples: Book, movie, and poetry groups; talks on health and aging issues; ‘Dinearounds’; and museum and garden tours.
And so At Home is a pioneer in meeting the varied needs of Greenwich’s burgeoning senior population. We are in the first wave of a nationwide movement adopting the Beacon Hill Village model. Currently there are 190 open villages with 150 in development, and we continue to meet with other Fairfield and Westchester County groups and individuals as they become interested in the future of the aging in place concept.