Developing and Implementing Programs

You Want it, You Make It Happen

One of the defining characteristics of Senior Connections at Crestmoor Downs is that classes, clubs, trips, and get-togethers don’t get scheduled unless an older resident is willing to take on the responsibility of making them happen. “This is a resident-focused and resident-run program, and that’s what makes it unique,” said Alison Joucovsky, its coordinator.

At any given time, 15 or more different activities are likely to be announced in the newsletter – among them, exercise and fitness classes, lectures, book groups, club meetings, meal get-togethers, and political discussions. With a single full-time staff member, there is no way all of that can happen without community involvement. “I’m a facilitator, the residents really do the work,” said Ms. Joucovsky. “They understand that if this program is going to go, they need to help.”

When someone expresses interest in a dance class or a poker tournament, Ms. Joucovsky is quick to say, “You need to be the captain. We will announce it in the newsletter, but you need to field the phone calls and set up the time to meet.” The result is a culture of involvement, and with it an empowering sense of ownership. “It makes people buy into the program and feel invested,” she emphasizes.

Classes are self-sustaining – each one costs $5, which pays the instructor. Some classes are initiated by residents, others by instructors willing to take a risk. If enough people show up, making it worth the instructors’ time, the class continues; if not, it may fall away.

The package of activities is always changing as staff and residents experiment with new ideas. Recently, a massage therapist, a manicurist, and a hair stylist have been coming on-site, where residents pay for the convenience of their services.

At monthly planning meetings, the Residents Council weighs in on new ideas for activities and trips. “It is definitely our program,” says senior resident Elaine Long, a member of the Council. “We talk about the kind of outings we should have, we talk about getting other people involved. We strive to get as many seniors as possible out of their apartments and into activities that interact with other people.”

Rethinking Transportation

About two-thirds of the senior residents at Crestmoor Downs who completed interest surveys mentioned transportation assistance. It seemed sensible, then, to purchase a 15-passenger van to help residents get to their medical appointments. NORC program staff announced the service, and then sat back waiting for requests.

Not many came in. Staff asked the Residents Council for feedback and discovered that most seniors had alternatives for getting to their doctors and preferred the convenience of going with adult children, with friends, or by cab. “They didn’t want to wait to be picked up and dropped off, or to get to appointments early,” said Cathy Grimm of Jewish Family Services. “They wanted the van for field trips, they liked going together to the museum or the symphony.”

Transportation services were reconfigured on the basis of that discovery and the van is now used solely for group outings. An alternative service – RIDE, or Responsible Individuals Driving Everywhere -- has been created to accommodate individual needs. Residents make their own arrangements with volunteer drivers who live in the complex, after their driving records are subjected to a background check. Passengers reimburse the RIDE drivers for gas, but it is primarily a community service, not a money-making venture.

“It has been a huge success,” said Ms. Grimm. “Residents like the one-on-one with the drivers. It gives them a chance to develop new relationships.”

Keeping in Touch

A buddy system was one of the services seniors at Crestmoor Downs said they didn’t want. Early in the development of the NORC program, staff had suggested an arrangement whereby residents in the same building would call each other daily to make sure everyone was safe. But some residents already had their own safety systems in place, and others felt the arrangement would be intrusive.

And then a woman who was not participating in the program had a stroke in her apartment. Without family or regular social connections, she lay there for three days before someone got concerned and called the management office. Everyone heard that story – and then decided that a buddy check system might be a good idea after all.

“Sometimes you have to wait for the crisis to happen for people to recognize what they need to stay in place,” said Ms. Grimm. “It has to be their agenda, not ours.”

A related service encourages residents to register for a monthly call from a volunteer. Another way to check in with residents and inquire about their health and well-being, those calls also become marketing tools to remind residents about upcoming NORC program activities.

Some older adults still resist these approaches, insisting, “We don’t want this to be an assisted living facility.” There are also vulnerable residents who are reluctant to use certain services lest they become too visible to others. The fear there is that someone will discover they are faring poorly and demand that they move from the independent living environment of Crestmoor Downs.

That’s where the staff intervenes to clarify the nature of a NORC program. “We are continually educating people that the role of this program is to bring in the services and activities they need,” said Ms. Jacouvsky. “It takes a while for the trust to develop so that people understand this is about keeping them at home, not about saying they don’t belong.”

That trust, when it does develop, fosters greater willingness to ask for help. And having that help available, in turn, allows more seniors to live more safely at home. Continued...

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