Bob Harris, who served on the NVN board and became president in April of 2020, and his wife Barbara (seen here) moved to Mt Airy from Michigan six years ago to be closer to their adult children. (Photo by Chiyo Moriuchi)

By Stacia Friedman

Northwest Philadelphia is a highly desirable area for young couples starting out. But is it a good place to grow old?

That was the question addressed back in 2012 by four Mt. Airy residents: Anne and Peter Javsicas, Deborah Cooper and Maurice Sampson.

“Peter and I had been talking for a long time about creating a group of like-minded people interested in supporting each other as we aged,” said Anne Javsicas, a member of Germantown Friends who previously served as the head of Plymouth Meeting Friends School for 22 years.

“We held a potluck dinner at a local pre-school to explore the possibilities,” she said. Eventually, these informal gatherings led to larger meetings at Chestnut Hill Library and Lovett Library. They became interested in the Village-to-Village Network, which presented a forward-thinking model for aging. The first one started in Boston in 2002 and, since 2019, there is now a national organization. 

A membership-driven, volunteer-run, grassroots, nonprofit organization, there are now 250 Village Networks in the U.S. and more than 100 in development. What do they do? Anything their members need to age safely and successfully in their own homes. 

Representatives from established Villages in Princeton and East Falls shared their experience at a local meeting attended by 50 area residents.

“We asked, ‘What are the needs of people as they age?’” said Anne. This evolved into the formation of committees reflecting the priorities of area seniors.

Initially, the fledgling local group called itself Mutual Mt Airy. Peter Javsicas served as its first president. Later, the name was changed to Northwest Village Network (NVN), one of three Villages in Philadelphia, including East Falls and Center City. What started as a conversation among four neighbors is now a vibrant organization with 165 members.

Anne has served as program committee chair and continues to be a board member. She also participates in many NVN activities, including Neighborly Groups, comprised of six to ten members who meet every other week to establish personal connections, form friendships and mutual support. The Javscias hosted a popular monthly film group until Peter’s untimely death in 2017.

The Film Group is now hosted by Faye and Dan Ross, who have resided in Mt. Airy since 1971 and are active members of First United Methodist Church of Germantown. Faye retired as assistant dean at Philadelphia University; Dan is a practicing attorney.

Pre-pandemic, the event combined a potluck buffet with a lively discussion of two pre-selected movies.

“We usually picked one film that was easily available online and one that was playing at an area movie theater,” said Dan. “Now, we pick two films available online, and our discussions are on Zoom.”

“The fun thing about the film group, you never know where the discussion is going to go,” said Faye. “And you never know who is going to love or hate a particular film.” Case in point, Faye’s favorite film is the 1980 subtitled Japanese classic “Kagemusha,” and Dan’s is the first “Star Wars.”

When the Film Group attracted more members than could comfortably fit into the Ross’s living room, they asked their neighbors, Karen and Rupert Seals, to host the overflow. Before the pandemic, up to 40 people attended, with half going to the Ross’ home and half to the Seals’. 

Karen Seals, a retired engineer, and her husband Rupert, an engineer at Boeing, joined NVN three years ago.

“We’ve attended several NVN seminars, and Rupert is now taking piano lessons from a 100-year-old NVN member,” said Karen. That’s another perk of NVN. Members volunteer to share their skills. It could be a piano lesson, how to use email or tend a garden.

“NVN is about community,” said Bob Harris, a former education consultant. “My wife Barbara and I moved to Mt Airy from Michigan six years ago to be closer to our adult children.” The following year, Harris read “Being Mortal,” a best-seller about aging, and urged Weavers Way to host a discussion group on the book. 150 people attended.

“We didn’t know anyone when we moved to Philadelphia. By joining NVN, we made a lot of friends who had the same kind of interests and values that we did,” said Harris, who served on the NVN board and became president in April 2020.  “We went on NVN group outings to the Grounds for Sculpture, Chinese Lantern Festival, Michener Museum.” 

But something was missing. “Most of NVN’s activities attract women. We needed an activity for men. Last Fall, we started a Men’s Meet-Up every Wednesday. It was very successful,” Harris said.  The group continues to meet via Zoom.

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