Esther Hurlburt said it is expensive to be old.
That's why the geriatric manager took the balance of her inheritance and bought two houses on Delaware Avenue that she plans to renovate and transform into a safe home for five elderly women.
"I have always loved old people," Hurlburt said. "I am passionate about how people respond to old people."
Hurlburt's response entails converting the houses into rental property that would help low-income seniors pool their resources and support one another in a shared housing arrangement.
"I had this vision of how women could age together if they lived in a cooperative setting," she said. "They would eat better if they live in community, and they could help one another."
The women Hurlburt believes could benefit most from the shared housing would perhaps include the widowed and retired restaurant worker who is living on Social Security but doesn't need the personal care of an assisted-living facility or a nursing home. They would be at least 65 years old and able to care for themselves.
"My heart has always been with women," she said. "If this is successful, we can do one for men."
The food budget could be shared as well as utilities and household chores.
Called the Legacy Home Ministry, the houses, once renovated, will have five bedrooms; three bathrooms; one large kitchen and one small one; common areas, including a sun room; and a laundry room. Each renter would have her own bedroom.
The Legacy Home Ministry is the first project of Lexington Cooperative Ministry Inc., a new non-profit organization.
Hurlburt, 54, the organization's board chair, provided the down payment for the homes, which were purchased in December, along with the first year's expenses. Hurlburt, the unity minister at Unitarian Universalist Church, also owns Parent Care Ky, a service that assesses and manages the medical and social needs of the elderly and disabled.
She said she had been thinking for a long time of ways to fill the gap that exists between living in nursing home or assisted-living facilities and living in their own homes. But she didn't quite know how to do that.
Her mentor, Ginny Ramsey, who co-founded the Catholic Action Center, told her to pray about it and that God would lead her.
"Esther is a woman of great passion for justice and helping those in need," Ramsey said. "Her passion is with the elderly. She is extremely motivated by her faith and her faith in people. I've known her for years. This is not a passing phase."
Similar models of community living are well established in other states, Ramsey said. "Esther doesn't look at the model that has 40 people and say I can't do that," she said. "She looks and says I can do part of that.
"If all of our communities of faith would own a few homes and have people who fall through the cracks live in them, it would help those who suffer from loneliness or disconnection," Ramsey said. "Everyone should do her part, and Esther is."
The plan is to have the homes ready for occupancy by winter. But a lot of help will be needed to pull that off.
Volunteers will be needed May 21-23, four hours each day, rain or shine, to basically gut the homes and ready them for renovation. Lexington Tree Service has agreed to clear the back yard, and Clay Ingles Co., located just behind the houses, is donating replacement windows and doors.
Nine people worked through the rain on Derby Day and completed a lot of the gutting. Dupree Catering and Events, located just down the street, gave them a meal of fried chicken, Hurburt said.
"We were wet, but we ate well," she said, laughing.
"We truly do need community support to make this project work," Hurlburt said. "Our dream would be to engage the community in a 'Habitat-style' remodeling effort because we are working on a shoestring budget."
If remodeling is not something you are drawn to, Hurlburt said she hopes you will take part in the "One Hundred People with One Hundred Dollars" effort she has started to raise $10,000. She said there will be no fancy mailings or big fund-raising events. All the money will go to the renovations, which could cost $80,000.
Hurlburt believes in community, in outreach and in prayer, or as she calls it, "praying with dirty hands."
"This is cooperative ministry," she said. "It is terribly exciting."