Germantown’s affordability, nature and tight knit community has attracted working class families for decades. Many residents who bought a home and raised their children in the area found that even as their block changed, its welcoming and neighborly character remained. Those who have built their lives in the community still wish to be involved and active, even if some things have become more difficult over the years. Natalie King is one of these residents. Even as she has gotten older, she can’t imagine moving away from her home.
Currently, her son helps with the yard work and repairs that she wouldn’t be able to do by herself, but she has also utilized low cost repair services through Ralston My Way, a nonprofit that supports independent living for older residents in Northwest Philadelphia. King says that she is more social now that she’s retired. She stresses how important it is for people in the community to get together. “You should get involved in some type of group in the area,” she says. “So that you can participate, you can give to the area, you can know what’s going in the area and you can feel pride in the area.”
According to the American Community Survey, a little over 12 percent of Germantown residents are 65 or older, and this number will continue to rise. The Population Reference Bureau reports that the older population in the United States is steadily increasing and becoming more ethnically and racially diverse. Germantown’s population has varied needs for older residents. One place meeting some of these needs is Center in the Park, a nonprofit community center located in Vernon Park. The center provides a range of activities and services to its members, including art and dance classes, information sessions and meals. Cleo Smalls, the Director of Programs and Mission Engagement, says that the center gives the opportunity for older residents to expand their knowledge and talents. “This is the place to come when you’re looking to try something new,” she says.
Mildred Bailey has been coming to Center in the Park since she retired in 1992. She enjoys socializing with the other members as well as exercising and line dancing. “It’s nice coming here,” she says. “They lead you, guide you and tell you different things that you don’t know.” Michael Gould has been a member since 2013. He comes three days a week to play pool and see friends. He says that the exercise and recreation that’s offered is essential for older people. “It’s a place that can help people,” he says. “It gets them things that they need to survive in this world.”
The Village model, which originated in Boston in 2002, is another approach for meeting the needs of these communities. Villages connect members with volunteers and staff who help them gain access to different services. Bob Harris is a West Mount Airy resident and a board member with theNorthwest Village Network, which serves the greater Northwest Philadelphia area including Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill and Germantown. Harris moved to Mount Airy from Michigan in 2014 to be closer to family, and has since found his sense of community through the Village. Harris finds that his experience is similar to many residents. “What this organization does is provide a wealth of opportunities for social interactions, educational experiences as well as support with transportation,” he says.
Members of Northwest Village Network pay an annual individual rate of $125 or $175 if they’re a couple. Harris says that the Village has provisions for those who want to be members but need help paying the fee. The village offers practical benefits such as home visitations and pet care along with activities to help foster friendships. Harris describes the village as a family, especially for those whose families may be far away. “The Village is like my support group community,” he says. “These are my friends. The people I go to movies with, go to dinner with, go walking with and go to the art museum with.”
Marney Hague is a member of the Northwest Village Network and a Germantown resident. “There is a real sense of neighborliness and caring for each other,” she says. For her, joining the network was a no brainer. She enjoys spending time with the friends she had made through the Village and has peace of mind knowing that she has a support system should something happen.
However, the network has seen more success in Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill than it has in Germantown. Its board members are trying to reach out to Germantown residents to get to know them and their needs better, and Harris says that the Village has held two forums in Germantown so far. Hague says that it’s just a matter of getting the word out to Germantown residents and showing them everything the network has to offer.
Both Center in the Park and Northwest Village Network bring together independent older residents who are looking to connect with others and participate in a variety of activities. Some older Germantown residents are instead looking for more practical services. UUH Outreach works directly with residents to gain access to resources, get financial help, manage their health and more. The service is free and available to any resident in Northwest Philadelphia who is 60 or older and living independently. Mary Fallon, the Executive Director, explains that this broad eligibility is deliberate. “Our focus is on our clients’ strengths, and we try to focus on ability, and wellness, rather than on deficits,” she says.
UUH Outreach services are extremely personalized to the individual. Fallon recognizes that many people need the same resources they always have, and may just need help finding them. “I hate to separate older adults from the rest of the population,” she says. “We all need the same things.”