It has been a long time since I have posted. Like many of you, families and caregivers, life changed in mid-March 2020.
We had our last supper, so to speak, of Hope Family Village families at Jimmy’s in March. Jerry and Joy, one of our founding families, were bravely there. They are in their mid- to late 80s. They have always encouraged me. Been very active in NAMI Williamsburg, operating exhibits for both Hope Family Village and NAMI.
For the past six years, we have worked hard to secure land for a 25-family project that sought real care. A community of acceptance on property originally intended for that purpose. Through two VA State Governors, acreage has been identified on the Eastern State surplus property specifically for Hope Family Village Corporation. No small achievement, 25 acres have been promised for a $1 lease arrangement.
For over two years, we have patiently and consistently worked with the Office of General Services and James City County to address a need that can only grow in our country. Recently, we selected legal counsel to help us work through details to take a budgetary commitment and turn it into something tangible.
Some things are destiny. Even destiny requires persistence.
To carry on with our mission, we have been generously supported by The Griffin Family, Williamsburg Community Foundation, Exelon Corporation, and many other smaller donors. We are very judicious with our funds and proud of that. Everything we do is with volunteers. Yet, our funds go to real projects that change lives. Three guys, seeking a fourth, live in a permanent home. They are connected and receive my support as their coach through life. And, I am a regular Dad, the caregiver of a son living with a serious mental illness.
Andrea’s passing was very tough on me. She was an early member of the Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge. I was her lodge coordinator. She might have been an early victim of Covid; it is hard to know. Scott, Steve, Ben and me, you see us pictured above, have carried on. They decided to begin walking the neighborhood when everyone else was told to shudder in place. We had our meetings on Zoom, for my protection, as a senior for several months, but started an outdoor activity. No one has contracted the virus.
Steve and I have walked two miles a day almost every day since. We now know 12 families, who we formerly did not know, in our 50 home neighborhood. And, they know us. Some join us on occasion. We have begun talking about holding a Covid-safe block party for this Fall.
Establishing the first Fairweather Lodge in Virginia, a regular home for people living with a serious mental illness, living in a regular neighborhood, was a tangible project. And, the lodge passed its first full year of operation in July. To celebrate, we went golfing at Revolution Golf.
The guys have done fantastic work. I am proud of hem. They have filed all of their Quarterly Outcomes Reports to the Coalition for Community Living (zero hospitalizations); put out four newsletters; kept the house up; shared weekly Saturday morning breakfasts; volunteered in the community; and more. They are a family. A good neighbor.
What the lodge exemplifies is Hope Family Village. Yes, we want to build something new and important in our community. Something that addresses our loved ones and their 8.4 million caregivers. And, maybe many USA families are finding out that self-isolation, losing paying work, not connecting with friends and families, is hazardous to your mental and physical health. This is the Covid World. Look at all that has happened. It’s unbelievable.
As Hope Family Village, Fairweather Lodge, what we demonstrate is that there is light. There is hope. And, we do it right now, in our own neighborhood. And, there is no more cost-effective approach to wellness.
In real life we see and know angels. Andrea (an-Drey’-ya), as she preferred to be called, was such an angel. For those of us who knew her, we experienced her bright light.
Corey, Andrea, and Courtney, Hope Family Village Dinner,Jimmy’s, December 13, 2018Photo: Dave Ress, Daily Press
Two qualities distinguish angels. They exhibit an uncommon kindness and thoughtfulness that is beyond everyday humanity. And, they are mischeviously fun.
While I knew Andrea but three years, from the moment I met her, from the podium of giving a speech on Fairweather Lodge and Hope Family Village to NAMI Hampton Roads/Newport News, no one could have forecast our life together.
Our meeting began with this concluding remark :”I am very excited to start a Fairweather Lodge (a home in a neighborhood, of mutual support and interdependence, for people living serious mental illness) in Virginia. Anywhere in Virginia. Maybe here in Newport News. All we need is a house.”
At the time, three of us were meeting in a place called The Coffee House (Williamsburg). Every Saturday morning at 8 AM. We operated what we called a “Virtual Lodge.” We’d have coffee. Discuss our respective weeks: The good, the bad, the indifferent. Discuss life goals, including seeking employment. Plans for the upcoming week. My role: Part coach, part undiagnosed participant. Our meetings would last no more than one hour.
Immediately after my podium request, a woman raised her hand and said in a soft but confident voice, “I have a house.” And so, we began.
Average people cannot comprehend serious mental illness. What it is. How it changes life. Dreams. Routine. They also miss the beauty and creativity that conjoins the mystery. I, too, was uneducated. Until it was personal and good fortune came my way. Andrea, and others, who lived with a diagnosis, patiently painted a picture of a hidden world.
Andrea shared her NAMI Peer-to-Peer Course Manual with me. She wanted me to understand peers. Also, help me to understand my son, who she would always ask about. She’d make suggestions for creating engagement. The next time she saw me, She’d ask the result and provide further feedback.
She understood what it was like to be a caregiver. She took care of her mother for some years, in their home, as she lived with Alzheimer’s disease until she died. Andrea was both caregiver and peer. In fact, only two weeks ago, she told me that her psychiatrist had asked Andrea to move in with her Mom, a dementia sufferer, to live there and care for her. She speculated that her son, Nathan, who she lived with in the same house she grew up in, might do the same for her.
Naturally thoughtful, Andrea would honor my birthday. Every holiday event. With a card. A small gift. Accompanied by an enveloping, mandatory hug. If you did not hug, she would fake a punch, as if a boxer. Before her illness, she had trained in marshal arts and he informed me that she did have skills to use in case I had to be brought in line. Just kidding, she’d giggle.
Her most recent gifts. A picture frame that featured golf balls and tees. A driver from the 1960s. A leather handkerchief dispenser for my car visor. She thought it looked cool. I will now be ready for Cornovirus.
Since Andrea’s passing, this tribute has come deliberately. Grief interrupts us. Another ingredient needed – attending her funeral service in Portsmouth with a fellow Coffee House lodge member. There, we learned that we were not the only ones she loved. Her unconditional love clearly reciprocated.
Sitting in the pews were family members, churches, lifelong friends, and our community – NAMI, Fairweather Lodge, Hope Family Village. You could feel people stealing glances at one another from their pews, wondering who these strangers were who had come on a Friday at 5 PM to a funeral service amidst rush hour traffic, in a most populated part of coastal Virginia, with few bridges and tunnels. A difficult journey. Some arriving just in time.
Charismatic leaders bear the gift that the people who they are communicating with are the only ones in their lives. These leaders appear to hang on one’s every word. Sincerity and authenticity hug them. Surprise, surprise. Andrea shared her life with others. Many friends. She made each feel unique and special, even the ones she had only known a month. Like her new church, the pastor for the service.
Two days before the service, a single cloud appeared in the sky on my sojourn around the 9-hole course where I play. Andrea would often call me on these jaunts. Through the magic of mobile phone technology and earbuds, we would talk as I played. She’d ask me to send her pictures of where a ball landed on the green. Urge me to make a hole-in-one. (I never have, nor been playing in a group that did.)
On this day, maybe she’d help me. Even better, I watched as this single cloud, alone in a sea of blue, morphed into the image of a snow angel, the kind we’d make as kids at the first snow. It disappeared before I could take a picture. And, I thought … Andrea. I now realized who she was. Could finally write.
Andrea was an angel in this plane and now in Heaven. As I have thought about her life throughout the week, Couldn’t our world do with more angels?
With her life, Andrea showed us that angels exist on earth. Their presence masked by current events, disagreements, traffic, electronics, judgement, the madness of civilization in a perpetual rush.
I never witnessed Andrea in a rush. She was calmly there or would let us know she was stuck in a tunnel on her many trips from Portsmouth to Williamsburg. Steve and I re-lived this potential on Friday’s drive.
Three years ago, when she first asked me if she could join our Coffee House meetings, I was nonplused and concerned. What time would she have to get out of bed to meet us?
Sometimes she would request I call her as the alarm clock. Other times she depended on Chewie, her dog to wake her up.
Andrea was a faithful participant in the Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge. We took our first lodge field trip to see the house she was proposing. Hers. She helped facilitate NAMI Williamsburg Peer Support Group meetings at 7 PM on Tuesday nights. She came to Hope Family Village dinners on Thursday nights.
She suggested, help plan, and participated in Fairweather Lodge events. Bowling, birthdays, dinners, NAMI Walks. It was her idea to celebrate Thanksgiving; she brought and cooked the dinner.
Among the wealthiest people on our planet, no one was more generous, thoughtful, kind and cheerful than Andrea. She is the model for humanity. (Note: I did not say she did not have opinions. She knew her mind.)
Not quite a year into knowing each other, she asked to visit with me at The Coffee House. Just the two of us. She had written her story on paper and wanted to share it with me. She told me, I cannot verbalize it, because I will wind up in the hospital.
We had coffee. She loved an orange drink they had. They sold it at a great price, she said. And it was good! Then, she handed me the paper and asked me to read it later and tell me what I thought. She forewarned me that she was not a good speller, owing to a learning disability.
I would start reading her story and have to stop. Weeks would go by and she would make inquiry. Show good natured disgust when I said, I am not done yet.
Some stories you wish you never knew. You see the story, not a person.
When I finally finished, I told her, I don’t know what to say but thank you. She responded with her characteristic, muffled, A-hm. We did not speak anymore than that, but she asked for it back because wanted to share it with her beloved psychiatrist. Who she once introduced me to at The Coffee House.
Not long after I returned her work, she began talking more openly about that part of her life. She triumphed through difficult times and dates of the year. Memories of tragic events. Reminded me when they were.
Never did she complain, seek sympathy. Never the victim. Again, we experience an angel. In large measure, maybe we know God through each other.
In our virtual lodge, as we developed our house rules and spoke about house philosophy, we realized that our pioneering members had faith in God as a common denominator. At our first diner together, it was Andrea who prevailed in saying the blessing. Surprise, surprise.
When we finally found a house, could see financially how to make it work, Andrea backed out. Up until this point, she was so excited. I was very discouraged. She had been such a prime mover.
Again, not until the service did it sink in that she had lived in the same community her entire life. She delivered papers here at 10. Her doctors were all there. (He heart, both a strength and congenital weakness, failed and led to her passing. She also lived with two forms of cancer. Nothing could hold her down.) Her church. Her childhood, work, and church friends. Her son. Her dog. The home that she offered to us as a prospective lodge. She was where she belonged.
Andrea and I shared quite a life. How she managed to make and keep all these connections can only be explained by her angelic qualities. I will miss her frequent but brief phone calls to check on me. Will glance skyward a little more often, hoping to catch a glimpse of that angel.
What I know, for certain, she has found home, the Big Lodge in the sky. And, if I ever do manage a hole-in-one, I will know that she had something to do with it.
No, it’s not Muzzorgsky. It’s Hope Family Village.
I had thought of entitling this post, 2019: Year in Review. Then, I thought that this year our accomplishments we can show in pictures. And, one photograph, taken by HFV member Jim Thomas, stands out.
Williamsburg Fairweather Lodge Family and Friends
We journeyed for 5 years to reach this point. In October, we celebrated with a potluck supper, with family and friends, the opening of the first Fairweather Lodge in Virginia. A picture of perseverance, celebration, and, mostly, gratitude.
Carmen Andreoli Receiving Exelon Award in Washington, DC
Hope Family Village Board Director and Treasurer received an award for his volunteer service from his employer Exelon Corporation. Hope Family Village received a $5,000 grant to support its Fairweather Lodge program.
Lisa Thomas Speaks to Kiwanis Toano
Board Director Lisa Thomas gave a presentation on Hope Family Village’s concept and development for 25 families on 25 acres at Eastern State.
During late May/early June 2019, I had the great fortune to represent Hope Family Village by attending the Annual National Cohousing Conference in Portland, Oregon.I was accompanied by another Williamsburg area volunteer, Shannon Casey, who is a brilliant Green Housing designer/developer and fully committed to caring for fellow humans suffering various neuro-diversity issues.The conference program was rich in both content and subject matter experts, so for optimal learning leverage, with two exceptions, we gladly split our schedules.
As my travel schedule worked out, I arrived a bit ahead of the formal conference and was just in time to attend an optional pre-conference “Intensive” Program, spending the afternoon with nationally known architect and cohousing expert Grace Kim to explore Common House Design.This was a powerful presentation as were the accompanying resource materials I gathered.
The Common House is a distinctive feature of cohousing that separates its “Intentional” communities from most other models. It is a central theme of our plans for Hope Family Village, a community envisioned for approximately 25 households with at least one member suffering from Severe Mental Illness and their family caretakers.Of note is that the leading recommendation of a College of William & Mary Entrepreneurship Study Team charged with investigating the HFV business plan/model was to design and build the Common House before building the remainder of the village.The key takeaway from Grace Kim’s session was that special needs neighborhood-housing design requires particularly careful attention.That message ricocheted throughout the conference in other sessions.
As part of my registration package, I had chosen another pre-conference “Intensive” session the following day.This was to spend that afternoon touring three cohousing communities in East Portland, across the Willamette River.In my opinion, the conference organizers did a great job choosing projects that were widely diverse and finding communities that were proud to show themselves to the cohousing world. Having residents at each property make the introductory presentations and lead the small breakout tour groups was also a masterstroke.For me, it was an intensive and highly useful introduction to the real world of cohousing.The comments that follow are a combination of my notes and a reworking and occasional direct presentation of information from the respective web sites that my observations confirmed.
The Community:This is a multi-generational community in the Cully neighborhood of Northeast Portland.To me it is more suburban than urban.From the introductory remarks and the website, its creation appears to have been more developer than resident driven.Essentially, a 1970’s apartment complex was taken over and merged with some adjacent and actively managed farmland.Properties were rehabbed and a Common House constructed.The transaction occurred in 2007; Groundbreaking followed in 2008; and in 2009, the first residents moved in.
There are 37 homes in five buildings at the south end of a 3.73-acre property. Further back on the property is a 1912 farmhouse, where there are guest rooms, a children’s room, meditation room, media room, kitchen, freezers, root cellar and living and dining rooms used for meetings and social events. Nearby is a majestic black walnut tree that is more than 200 years old.Other shared “common space” on the property includes a dining/common hall with play room, a crafts/sewing room, workshop, laundry room, storage building, and tool shed.An interesting fact is that the 37 residences require only 3 sets of washers/dryers to handle the community-washing load.This leaves room in the individual living units for other amenities.
I was impressed by the village’s commitment to gardening.Food is grown in two large gardens and used for scheduled and optional community meals in the Common House. It was reported that the cost of their fabulous dinners is $5/person. The residents harvest a substantial bounty from fruit and nut trees as well as rows of grapes, blackberries, raspberries and more. Members may also have an individual or shared garden plot and many also use their green thumbs beautifying the courtyard areas in front of their homes.
At this stage of my report, it is useful to briefly reintroduce cohousing.It came to this country from Denmark in the mid-1980s. At the conference we learned there are more than 175 established and forming cohousing communities in the U.S., and it is clear there is a lot of activity in the Portland area.
Common cohousing features include the following:
Communities planned and run by residents who make decisions together.
A balance of common areas and private housing, designed to encourage social interaction while respecting privacy.
Shared meals available in a “common house” 3 to 5 times a week, plus other shared activities based on the interests of community members.
Members living in fully equipped house or apartments, choosing to share a range of resources for environmental and economic reasons.
Members are often encouraged/required to spend allotted numbers of hours in given periods with volunteer activities that promote community operations, values, etc.
Stated features at Columbia Eco-Village are: child-friendly, elder-friendly, sociable living; cooperative interaction; moderate level of participation; and a chance to make long-term personal connections with neighbors who share similar values.
Cohousing communities are often managed by the owner/residents in a manner similar to condominium associations around the country.This is often through having a Board of Directors elected by the residents/owners govern and implement activities through its Bylaws authority and a series of committees.
Columbia Eco-Village was proud to announce they used a system adapted from Europe called Sociocracy.It places a huge incentive on developing community consensus. If one can imagine a Center Circle surrounded by four other circles and all of them linked to the Center Circle, you can visualize the model.
Typically, the four circles are responsible for the following: Land, Facilities, Social Activities and Administration.The concept is basically a de-centralized governance system, where experts are assigned to each of the circles and have a good degree of autonomy in their domain based on their expertise and experience.And because it is decentralized, it appears to be more efficient than traditional centrally controlled models.
Wikipedia has an excellent introductory discussion of the concept.A publication entitled Many Voices One Song written by Ted J. Rau and Jerry Koch-Gonzalez offers an excellent introduction to the subject.I, for one, am intrigued with the Sociocracy concept and will be researching it further as a potential system of governance that could produce high participation and rock solid consensus building with the future Hope Family Village.
In a stark contrast with Columbia Eco-Village, Ankeny Row represents a superb example of a deeper urban project.It is well located in the historic Buckman neighborhood near bus routes and a designated bicycle route, thus offering the option of automobile free living.
Two families who had become fast friends led the project.They were driven by an ancient challenge from Michelangelo Buonarroti: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving out mark.”
Built on a footprint of 12,600 square feet (a ¼ acre brownfield lot), Ankeny Row consists of 7 units – 6 for residences and 1 for a Common House, built around a shared courtyard with access through a pronounced pedestrian entrance.This keeps resident eyes focused on an available streetscape that emphasizes the projects extreme walkability.
The units are contemporary in their architecture with open floor plans that center activity around the kitchen and dining areas.All units have first floor master suites that permit total living there, if ever required.
Most impressive is the highly insulated Passive House airtight envelope on the buildings that, it is claimed, reduces energy demand by over 90% when compared with conventional construction.Additional benefits include light filled interiors, excellent indoor air quality through a constant supply of fresh, filtered air, thermal comfort and acoustic isolation from the sound of urban bustle. A solar photoelectric roof top panel that promises Net Zero energy conservation further enhances the project.
The two families serving as project developers engaged Green Hammer to help create a building with minimal environmental impact, reduced operating costs and long-term prospects for robust economic value.In 2016, 5 residential units and the common house produced 18% more energy than was consumed in overall community operations.
During the tour we were introduced to the high technical quality of the installed equipment and the finest of finishes that were used in the construction of these units.This a very high-end project in terms of value versus median housing costs in the Portland area.In a book they wrote about the project, the developers make the case that their personal involvement substantially reduced the imbedded project costs for all of the owners.Rather than charge a developer fee, they contributed their sweat equity to their membership.This is certainly a powerful project development and marketing idea to keep in mind when starting a cohousing effort.
The Common House was built with top noise containment materials on both the walls and floor. Wonderful art on the walls enhances resident social cohesion.The space allows for group activities, yoga for instance, other group and community activities and hosted dinners (up to 24 have been served at one sitting).And the Courtyard Garden and unit decks feature great views, urban gardening and both formal and informal connectivity on a daily basis.Convenient bike parking emphasizes biking versus visitor driving to the site.
All in all, Ankeny Row is a jewel of a project, one decidedly oriented to well to do seniors who could easily self-fund construction and final living unit acquisition with the existing equity and ultimate sale of their residences.
Our final stop was at PDX Commons.It is intentionally designated as a Senior Cohousing Community.At least one person age 55 or older must live in at least 80 percent of the units under Federal Hair Housing Law. They may have children or younger adults living with them. Age restrictions do not apply on the remaining 20 percent of the units.
The owners are acutely aware of the impact that the passage of time will take on its residents/owners and the need to refresh its membership over time.They are about to celebrate their second anniversary.A telling sign of the power of their design, development and social plan is that there is a current waiting list of 50 families seeking a home in the complex.