Two years after volunteers started planning a senior village in Howard County, the community designed to help aging county residents remain in their homes is about to open for business.
Organizers have incorporated as a charitable organization, set up a board of directors and secured an office in Columbia. They've started a monthly newsletter, launched a website and spent the last few months spreading the word in meetings throughout the county.
On Nov. 1, at an open house in their new office, the organization will begin signing up members, and they expect to start offering services in January.
"People have heard about it, they've seen it, they've come to our talks," said Mary McGraw, 70, the Columbia woman who has spearheaded the effort. "Now's the time to get it up and running."
Dubbed The Village in Howard, the new village is part of a growing national network of communities whose aim is to help senior citizens remain in their homes as they age rather than having to move into a retirement community. The villages recruit volunteers to provide a range of services and activities those seniors need – from shoveling snow and taking out the trash to rides to medical appointments and cultural activities and lectures.
Members, who must be at least 55 years old, pay an annual fee, which varies depending on the services they need.
According to the Village to Village Network, which assists and tracks the movement, more than 120 villages have been established in the United States and a few other countries, and another 100 are being developed.
"This is like a tsunami sweeping the country," McGraw said. "It's a movement that the time has come. People want to stay in their home – I know I do."
McGraw said the Village in Howard wants to sign up 100 members, but could accommodate either fewer or more.
She said annual fees have been set at $350 per person and $450 for a two-person household for full membership, and $150 per person and $250 for a two-person household for social membership, which means access only to cultural and other activities.
The organization is looking to recruit volunteers – including fellow seniors — willing to provide the wide array of mostly simple services the village will offer.
"You'll probably have to call your own plumber," McGraw said, "but if you have a leaky toilet that's running up the water bill, we'll have people that can fix that."
Dayna Brown, administrator of the county Office on Aging and a member of the 10-member village board, said the village will complement what her office does by offering services the county cannot.
"Anything they're doing and the whole mission, we are incredibly supportive of, because that's part of our mission as well: To help people age in the community they love and want to stay in," Brown said.
As a relatively small county with a strong focus on community, she added, Howard is "the perfect place for this kind of thing."
McGraw agreed that Howard County is well suited to accommodating a senior village, but added: "Any place could use a village. Is it necessary? No. But it's going to make aging a more comfortable process."
During an informational talk at the Gary Arthur Community Center at Glenwood earlier this month, board member Judy Pittman described the new village to about 20 curious seniors.
"We will not compete or take the place of services offered by Howard County," said Pittman, 71, of Ellicott City. "We're trying to be another resource for you."
She said the village will employ two paid, part-time staffers, one to organize services, the other to manage the volunteers.
"Everyone has something to offer," she said, explaining how volunteers could do something as simple as walk a dog or help tend a garden, "and everyone needs help."
After Pittman's presentation, seniors interviewed lauded the concept, but expressed reservations about the cost.
"It sounds like an excellent idea, said Terry Stetson, 66, of Glenwood. "I do want to be able to age in my own house.
"But it sounds a little pricey," he added. "I would use it, but the price has to be right."
Marcia White, 73, who lives near Woodbine, had a similar reaction. "I like the concept," she said. "I've looked around and it's hard to find a [retirement] place you could afford, and I'd really like to remain in my own home. … But it depends on what it costs."
Charlotte Dill, 80, of Glenwood, was less skeptical.
"It's a positive thing," she said. "I would use it, though I don't think my husband would. … I think anything is better than having no services, no help at all."
For more information on The Village in Howard, go to thevillageinhoward.org. The open house will be held Saturday, Nov. 1 from 10 a.m. to noon at the new village's headquarters, 5460 Ruth Keeton Way, Columbia.