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At Home in Alexandria! Helps Older Residents Age at Home

Nonprofit group opened doors last year

Former Alexandria mayor and retired state Sen. Patsy Ticer isn’t above asking for a little help.

Following knee surgery, Ticer called on Alexandria’s “village movement” -- volunteers helping older residents who choose to live at home -- for transportation to doctor’s appointments and even for help changing an overhead light bulb. Ticer is one of 62 members of At Home in Alexandria!, which began last year and already has 50 volunteers, with another 40 undergoing the certification process.

“It kind of ignites,” Ticer said. “One person tells another, and word of mouth is how it’s gotten around.”

AHA!, based in Del Ray, was inspired by a growing number of village movements helping older Americans age at home. For a annual fee, Alexandrians age 55 or older are provided with assistance with tasks ranging from fixing leaky faucets to watering gardens and with essential transportation, such as grocery shopping or medical appointments. AHA! was inspired by the original village movement at Beacon Hill in Boston and by its sister organization, Mount Vernon at Home, said AHA! Executive Director Jane Kratovil.

“There are different models, but the concept remains the same,” Kratovil said. “It’s community-based, neighbor-to-neighbor, effectively, in support of allowing you to stay in your own home for as long as possible and enjoy it.”

There are now more than 100 similar village movements nationwide, with 27 in the metropolitan Washington area alone, she said.

All volunteers at AHA!, which opened doors in April 2011, undergo criminal background checks and driving record checks. The nonprofit currently covers Alexandria from Old Town west to Quaker Lane, and recently expanded to include Inova Alexandria Hospital. Kratovil said she hopes to eventually reach the whole city.

Volunteers are most commonly called to help with transportation and technology needs. AHA! also holds cultural, educational and social events for members.

“We’re always trying to come up with new and interesting things for our members to do,” Kratovil said. “We have found, and it’s been documented, that as important as the services are, the other major component … is our programs -- our social, cultural and educational programs -- because that prevents our members from becoming isolated. It’s the whole social interaction thing that’s very important as you age.”

Group activities have included hosting speakers -- a gerontologist and an Alexandrian archaeologist -- and museum tours. Kratovil’s ideas for future events include short overnight trips, a cooking class, a bridge club and a “snow buddies” program in which volunteers clear away snow at members’ homes and sidewalks.

Steve Nelson of Del Ray, a volunteer and member, said he and his wife have been involved with the organization since its inception. As a volunteer, Nelson specializes in helping people with computer problems -- how to connect a wireless printer, for example.

Nelson’s own mother, 93, lives in her own condo in Seattle. “She sure could use an organization like this, just to help her go to the grocery store and answer questions about the TV verses DVD, and things like that,” he said. “I wish there was an organization out there that could help her. And that sort of brought it home for me.”

AHA! envisions itself as complementing city services for the aging, providing what it calls a “concierge-style” response system -- or, as Kratovil sees it, as an extended family.

“Almost without exception, we know people want to stay in their home,” she said. “This provides this, for perhaps only two years, perhaps only one year, but it does extend the time you can stay in your own home.”

AHA! recently began the Friends of AHA! Affiliation program, which allows Alexandrians age 55 or older who do not need essential service to take advantage of AHA!’s social, cultural and educational offerings.

Membership dues are $550 a year for a single membership and $800 for a household. The AHA! Friends fee is $250, of which $200 is a tax-deductible contribution. To obtain an application, visit the AHA! website or call 703-231-0824. AHA! is also looking for volunteers.

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