Ruth Sullivan McElheny ‘57: Building a Virtual Retirement Community

At one of Ruth Sullivan McElneny’s dinner parties, talk turned to continuing-care retirement communities; who wanted to live in one and who didn’t? “Nobody wanted to go,” she recalls. Including Ruth and husband Victor.

Both retired, they’d toured the best such facilities in their area—greater Boston—and decided they “didn’t want to be in an isolated, single-generation community miles from the activities we enjoy in Cambridge.”

Instead of moaning about their lack of options, Ruth began creating an alternative. Everyone she knew wanted to stay in their own homes as they aged, and an initial mailing to some 250 area residents yielded an astonishing 60 percent response rate. That became the nucleus for Cambridge at Home.

This Boston nonprofit offers a menu of services and events for a single membership fee, creating a “virtual retirement community” for members who live in their own homes but want centralized services. “We offer support, security, and sociability,” Ruth explains. It opened for business in 2007 and now has nearly 200 households as members.

Offerings include transportation to hospitals and supermarkets; lectures, poetry groups, reading groups, trips to museums, and other cultural outings; liaisons with hospitals, homecare firms, and other service providers; and exercise groups. (Ruth is part of the weekly tai chi class.)

A founding trustee, Ruth continues to spend many hours weekly volunteering for the organization. Her past career skills as a corporate communications manager at Polaroid and Cuisinart helped get Cambridge at Home launched, and she still writes the organization’s newsletter.

“I had never been a community activist before; I’d spent my time on a business career,” she says. “It’s been very rewarding to spend my time helping people in the community.”—E.H.W.

To learn how to replicate Cambridge at Home in your community, visit