The Virginia Home has a 125-year history of taking care of adults with permanent physical disabilities. A nonprofit organization, it has 130 beds providing nursing, therapeutic care, and residential care for individuals with irreversible physical disabilities.

Robert Crouse, president and chief executive officer, says all programs and activities are built for the residents to have an active and meaningful life. Some residents go to work, some volunteer in the community, and some volunteer within the center itself.

Being an Ambassador

Visiting a local farmers market is a new program and a chance for residents to flex their diplomatic skills. Every week, three to four residents who are selected to be ambassadors go out to the market on Saturdays and talk about life at The Virginia Home. 

“Sometimes they have put together some projects that they sell,” says Crouse. Residents may paint inspirational messages on recycled pallets or bring jewelry that they have made. “So they are selling some items, but more importantly they are talking to people about life at The Virginia Home,” says Crouse.

Going Out

The average age for a Virginia Home resident is 51. A local music therapist who directs a chorus works with groups of residents on musical endeavors. There is also a pool and active therapy. But The Virginia Home’s most popular activities are the many travel scholarships. 

Groups of residents may go almost anywhere, including sporting events, trips to nearby Washington, D.C., the beach, and adaptive-type cruises. Disney World is the most popular trip among the residents. All of these are funded by donors and free to residents. 

“What residents enjoy most is being able to bond in an experience outside of The Virginia Home and share new things and do new things,” says Crouse. “And they share the pictures and the memories and the good times they had with everybody.”

The Virginia Home works in other ways to offer residents opportunities to find or increase meaning in their lives. Some of these include an in-house boxing program, customized wheelchairs so that residents are comfortable and able to get around safely, and systems administrators so residents can keep their iPads, cell phones, and tablets active and functioning, connecting them with technology and the world outside of the home.

“We just tried to create a homelike environment so residents can live the fullest, most active, and most meaningful life they are able to,” says Crouse.

How it All Works

Staff come up with strategic ideas from time to time and also ideas on the spot. “Our recreational therapist came up with our annual 5K swimming event,” says Crouse. “It’s for residents so they can sign up for a race, enjoy the competitive environment, reach their goal, and get a medal at the end of it.”

For this event, 100 residents and 100 volunteers take part in swimming laps around the local lakes. Residents may receive training in advance if desired. 

“The benefits are just a healthy, active lifestyle and promoting the abilities of the residents and their interests,” says Crouse. “It’s them being a part of a special event and being able to go out and have fun.”
Residents get a medal at the end, and afterwards, families and staff join in for a party on the street.

The Annual Aquathon

Another swimming event, the Aquathon, takes place every December. Going on its 23rd year, this event involves residents seeking out pledges, swimming laps, and donating the money to another organization.

The Aquathon is a big deal indeed. Residents participating will spend much time practicing to break their records, or their personal bests. A number of volunteers come in to cheer and count laps during the three-day event. In the end, another special organization receives a monetary gift from the residents who live in The Virginia Home. 

“It takes a coordinated effort from staff to be able to help orchestrate the event so it goes smoothly,” says Crouse. “We have to make sure that everybody’s prepared and everything is timed.”

In His Own Words

John Vargo has been a resident at The Virginia Home for a little over two years. “This is a very unique place,” he says. “I wasn’t here a month and I was asked if I want to go to Walt Disney World.” 

There are plenty of activities both in and outside the center. Vargo has been to several baseball and basketball games, jazz concerts, and all kinds of activities outside. “I have the freedom to choose what I want to do,” he says. “I have been volunteering at a local hospital for the last 13 years. I was able to continue that, and I’m doing a lot on my own like shopping and the movies.”

A natural musician, Vargo says the center’s music therapist worked with him to record some of the songs he had written years ago. “So they foster creativity here, and she encouraged me to write more,” he says. “So I have, and that has been a really fun part of being here.”

Reflecting on his life to date before and after, Vargo says that before The Virginia Home he was able to get around with the different services and the city bus. But now, life is different. “My life now is not as limited as it was,” he says. “Here, people are throwing ideas about different things I can do. And different ways I can occupy my time. So it is much better.”

Amid all the fundraising, races, and more, connections still matter. The center’s music therapist and Vargo are both big Elton John fans. “I sat down at the piano and started to play ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ and she would play along with me,” he says. “And then I asked her how many times she had seen Elton John and she said six, and it turns out that was one more than I had.”