DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

Nonprofit allows seniors to stay in their homes, remain vital

Elizabeth Kelchner

DU alumna Elizabeth Kelchner is the executive director of Washington Park Cares, a nonprofit dedicated to helping seniors citizens remain in their homes. The organization will have a fundraiser on Sept. 24. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Elizabeth Kelchner understands that for some older adults losing a home means losing freedom. That’s where Washington Park Cares steps in.

Washington Park Cares is a nonprofit that offers service for people 55 and older and helps them stay in their homes by offering transportation and other services, Kelchner says. Kelchner (PhD social work ’02) is Washington Park Cares’ executive director and an adjunct professor at DU’s Graduate School of Social Work.

“A lot of our members see us as insurance,” Kelchner says. “At some time, they might need the kind of help we provide and they will be all set if that happens.”

Yearly membership costs are low at $100 per person and $200 per household, she explains. Membership includes unlimited services, which includes shoveling walkways during the winter, minor home repair and the most frequently requested service, transportation.

And there’s been the occasional odd request. Recently, a set of grandparents called the organization and explained that their granddaughter had been hospitalized after a car accident.

“[The granddaughter] had a son — an infant — and nobody to care for him,” Kelchner says. “They wanted to take him but weren’t equipped to at their age.” So one of the volunteers offered to take him and care for him for a few days until the granddaughter was out of the hospital.

Additionally, the organization provides social activities for seniors and a chance to learn new things. There are book clubs, dinners at area restaurants, cooking classes and lectures. Although the organization is called Washington Park Cares, it serves more than 10 Denver neighborhoods.

For Kelchner, though, the organization is more than just a kind of insurance — it’s a passion she’s had for years. Most of her career has been spent working with the elderly. She served as the director of social work and the assistant administrator of a nursing home for 10 years, taught aging courses at Syracuse University and worked in state hospitals and disability centers.

When she heard about Washington Park Cares in 2008, it was just starting up. A board of directors had just formed that included Bill Eichelberger, who served as DU’s computing center director for 25 years. Eichelberger helped start the foundation and now volunteers for the organization.

“From the beginning, I maintained a database of contacts, members and volunteers — and I still do that at the age of 88,” Eichelberger says. He’s currently the board secretary/treasurer and volunteers as “a computer, TV and telephone expert.”

In June 2008, Washington Park Cares received nonprofit status from the IRS and Kelchner took the helm of the operation in early 2009. The organization currently has about 135 members and 40 volunteers.

Kelchner says her initial involvement with the organization — which then morphed into becoming its only staff member — was “just too interesting to turn down.”

A fundraiser for the organization, which will be held Sept. 24 at DU’s school of Hotel, Restaurant, Tourism Management from 5–9 p.m. Tickets are $60 each and include parking, food and drinks and participation in the live and silent auction. For more information, visit www.washingtonparkcares.net.


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