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Sun Gazette: Advocates for Local Seniors Lauded by Culpepper Garden Print


Created: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 11:08 am | Updated: 11:10 am, Tue Nov 15, 2011

Culpepper_Gardens_Awards_11.14.11Recipients of Culpepper Garden's 2011 Elder Service Awards were honored Nov. 14 during a ceremony at Signature Theatre. Joining award-winners Sharon Sundial and representatives from Virginia Hospital Center and Red Top Cab were Culpepper Garden board chairman Doug Williams, Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) and WRC-TV's Doreen Gentzler. (Photo by Scott McCaffrey)


Culpepper Garden Senior Center on Nov. 14 presented its third annual Elder Service Awards, honoring those who go beyond the call of duty to support seniors of limited means in the community.

"It's always nice to get an award, particularly for something that is a labor of love," said Sharon Sundial, who was honored for her service as a board member and volunteer of the not-for-profit Culpepper Garden organization, and for her efforts as an advocate for seniors spanning multiple decades.

Sundial won honors along with Red Top Cab and the senior-health department at Virginia Hospital Center. She said it has been a "real joy" to interact with residents.

"They breathe the life into Culpepper Garden," Sundial said.

The Nov. 14 event, held at Signature Theatre, is part of an effort to raise $130,000 during the year to support the supportive-services housing complex at Culpepper Garden, which totals 73 units.

The remainder of the 340-apartment facility includes space for independent living. Many residents move from the independent-living area to the supportive-services area as they age and their needs change.

The supportive-housing units offer local residents "their best chance for residents to age in place and live with dignity," said Doug Williams, chairman of the Culpepper Garden board of directors.

Among those living in the supportive-services complex is the mother of WRC-TV anchor Doreen Gentzler. A longtime Arlington resident, Gentzler's mother moved into the supportive-services part of Culpepper Garden nearly a year ago.

"It is a huge relief to her family to know that she is in a great place, where people are so caring," said Gentzler, whose family has deep roots in Arlington.

Her mother has a strong independent streak, and had no desire to move in with family or leave the community she had called home for decades, Gentzler said. Finding Culpepper Garden "seemed like a miracle to us," she said.

"She could continue to live with some independence – and she could stay in Arlington," the anchor said.

Culpepper Garden opened in 1975, supported at the beginning largely by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington.

Culpepper Garden long has been in the vanguard of providing a range of services to seniors of limited financial means, said Del. Patrick Hope.

"The demand for these resources is only going to increase," said Hope (D-47th), who has pressed in Richmond for additional public resources to meet the needs of low- and moderate-income seniors.

"The state needs to go much further," Hope said, "to make Arlington and the commonwealth the best place in America in which to grow old."

At the ceremony, attended by about 150 people, the senior-health department of Virginia Hospital Center was lauded for its innovative efforts in promoting healthy living for the area's more seasoned adults, and those who care for them.

Programs range from mall-walking excursions to exercise classes to support groups for those assisting victims of Alzheimer's disease.

"We absolutely love it – nothing gives us more pleasure than working with the seniors of our community," said Cathy Turner, director of health promotion and senior health at Virginia Hospital Center, who received the award along with the hospital's Mary Belanick and Lena Wang.

Red Top Cab and its founder, Neal Nichols, were honored for 50 years of service to the community, with a special focus on senior residents.

The cab company in the 1980s became the first in the area to provide wheelchair-accessible taxis, and long has offered discounts and special services to seniors. Gentzler noted that the firm's drivers make nearly 30 trips a day, on average, to Culpepper Garden.

The award "is really a reflection of the hard work of a lot of people over the years," said Red Top vice president Charles King. (Nichols was under the weather following a trip out of town.)

Taxicabs are often the only travel options available to seniors and those with disabilities, and "we've worked hard to keep our services accessible, in every sense of the word," King said.

Located on North Pershing Drive, Culpepper Garden gets its name from Dr. Charles Culpepper, who owned the land and made it available for housing for low-income seniors. The average age of residents in the independent-living residences is 79, and in the supportive-services center, the average age is 87, according to the organization's Web site.