Senior Living: Community Collaborators
By Christy Brudin
What really makes a community? It is certainly not beautiful iron gates or modern homes filled with high-tech conveniences. Communities — real, strong communities — are made of dynamic individuals who share common interests and goals. A community is only as robust as its people.
At Chevy Chase House, an assisted living facility in Washington, D.C., an incredible group of active residents are the heart of this thriving community.
We met David Breasted, a former reporter for The Evening Star, and Evie Thompson, the mother of two incredibly accomplished women, Anne Henderson and Nina Altschiller. Dallal Richards, an avid horticulturalist, bridge player and flower show judge, is also a central part of the community. And Charles Missar, who worked for The Library of Congress and the Office of Education, is another of the many vibrant individuals who call Chevy Chase House home.
While there is no shortage of active residents with fascinating stories, no one better exemplifies the positive spirit that permeates Chevy Chase House than Ruth Nadel.
“I just celebrated my 98th birthday, and, I must say, I’ve enjoyed every bit of my 98 years,” said Ruth. A lifelong activist and organizer whose growing legacy includes a scholarship foundation and a volunteer network, Ruth has always been interested in furthering educational opportunities and building strong communities.
Ruth’s passion for education started early. She was a member of the first class at the City University of New York’s Baruch College that admitted women. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and later got her Master’s in Education and became a teacher.
At the tender age of 20, she was teaching high school students. She quickly became involved in the first of many community partnerships. “I taught many immigrant children; we’d give them vocational training and find them jobs provided by cooperating business organizations,” she said. “These youngsters never dropped out, and they got business experience.”
Later, as the mother of four boys, Ruth was active in the educational community as a volunteer. Her unpaid work did not go unnoticed. She was elected to the school board in Santa Barbara, CA, where the family lived in the 50s and 60s.
Through her work on the school board, Ruth realized that many minority children did not have an opportunity to continue their education. She, with several other community activists, took it upon themselves to start The Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation to provide support for these children. “Anyone seeking further or higher education is eligible – whether to be a plumber or an engineer, a student or an artist,” she said.
Ruth and her fellow founders invited Santa Barbara’s business and community leaders to a luncheon. “That was 50 years ago,” she said with genuine pleasure. “It was enlarged to include some neighboring counties, and it is rated today as one of the best nonprofits in the country.”
After raising their children in Santa Barbara, Ruth and her husband moved back to the east coast and settled at the Van Ness North in Washington, D.C. When the residents of the cooperative apartment building noticed that one of their neighbors was blind and needed extra help, they decided to take action.
They turned to Iona, a non-profit agency providing community-based programs and services to seniors in Washington, D.C. With the help of Iona, Ruth developed a questionnaire that polled residents about their need for help or, alternatively, their willingness to help their neighbors.
The response was overwhelming, and the project eventually became what is now the Volunteer Neighbor Network. “To this day, so many years later, it is still thriving,” said Ruth. “And now, would you believe there are over forty different kinds of services available, more than half of which are social?”
Based on accredited unpaid work after years of volunteering, Ruth became a public servant for 21 years in the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor. During her tenure, she received the Distinguished Service Award for designing and developing the first employer supported child care center in a government agency. After retiring, she returned to her full time pro-bono work.
Today, Ruth continues her community involvement from her new home at Chevy Chase House. In fact, moving has made it easier for her to fulfill her many commitments.
Ruth was reappointed by the Mayor and continues to serve on the D.C. Commission on Aging. She is active in several organizations, including the National Council of Women’s Organizations. But even at 98, getting to meetings is never a concern, thanks to Chevy Chase House’s transportation service. “The thing that amazes me is the limo service,” Ruth declared. “It’s available to take you anywhere, and then you call and they come pick you up.”
When Ruth is not out fulfilling her many obligations, she is busy becoming part of her new community. She is even enjoying some leisure activities she never had time for, including a poetry reading group. “Chevy Chase House provides so many chances for you to enjoy yourself. You’re kept as busy as you want to be!” she observed.
In addition to the community’s many amenities, Ruth has welcomed making new friends in her 90s. “I enjoy everyone here. There are so many broad backgrounds and some very interesting people,” she stated. “The opportunity to make friends with these people here, it’s a new life.”
Ruth also appreciates the security that Chevy Chase House provides. From medication service to help with daily tasks, she knows that there is always someone available to help. Since her initial move was the result of a traumatic fall two years ago, she realizes just how essential this security is to her active lifestyle.
“Don’t believe the popular misconceptions about a retirement home,” Ruth said. “I call this my third life, and it really, really is.” She concluded, “It’s just wonderful that you can come here and see what a new life is like, and my nature is to take advantage of it.”
Ruth and her fellow residents are certainly benefiting from all that Chevy Chase House has to offer. As individuals, they are all remarkable seniors with a wide array of professional and personal accomplishments. Together, they have become collaborators in an exceptional community.