Designing and Implementing your Program
Establishing a Brand
As program manager of aging services for the Fulton County Office of Aging, Regine Denis is a government employee. Still, she doesn’t mind admitting that government programs aren’t always very popular in the East Point community. Some residents are suspicious; others are reluctant to accept what they consider handouts.
To deal with those attitudes, Fulton County’s attractive tree logo is no longer on NORC-related material. “We rarely use our county symbols. Now when we do something, we use the Georgia state NORC logo,” Ms. Denis explained. “We have rebranded ourselves so we can talk more about what a NORC is and what it means.”
The state NORC logo is a drawing of a homey, welcoming streetscape. It appears on the canvas bags that the East Point NORC Program gives away at “Talkin’ on Tuesday,” its monthly speaker’s event. The bags are stamped with the message, “Ask me about NORCs,” and people carrying them are often stopped by someone who does just that. The logo is also on the lawn signs and window decals that are handed out free to anyone who has received a NORC service or is providing one.
“We felt we had to talk about the NORC program as a whole,” says Ms. Denis. “By branding it, we instill pride in being part of a NORC.”A brand identity also helps people see the East Point NORC Program as part of a broader community-driven movement. “All of this gets people talking the NORC language,” says Ms. Denis. “It becomes a conversation piece for seniors, and it connects something positive that is happening in their neighborhood with something that is spreading throughout the region.”
When the East Point NORC Program was launched, transportation was an enormous challenge for residents. Public transportation was generally designed for commuters, and the door-to-door services for eligible seniors in the county were only available on weekdays, and then only for grocery shopping and medical appointments.NORC program planners had to ask the right questions and listen closely to detect dissatisfaction from the community’s older adults. People did not want to criticize the services that were available to them, nor did they want to admit their limitations. “It is hard to say you need help getting around,” says Kathryn Lawler of the Atlanta Regional Commission. “To admit you have a problem is to admit you are losing some independence.”
What older adults actually wanted was to be able to go where they wanted, when they wanted—not only to go to doctor’s offices and food shopping, but to go to the hairdresser, to visit friends and family, and to run errands and maintain their social connections—and not only in the middle of the week, but on evenings and weekends, too.
Thus was born the concept of “transportation vouchers,” although the name was quickly changed to “transportation coupons.” “Some residents view ‘vouchers’ as a handout,” says Ms. Denis. “A lot of folks here have a lot of pride, and they’d rather let something go than ask for a handout.”Transportation coupons can be used to pay anyone willing to drive seniors anywhere they want to go. Residents pay $10 and get $100 worth of coupons. Many people have paid friends, neighbors, or family members with coupons, negotiating the price of the ride independently. A few local people have emerged to make driving their business, earning clients through referrals as word spreads about drivers with clean cars, kind dispositions, and a willingness to carry bags into the house.
Older residents did not immediately embrace the transportation program. “We were not initially getting good buy-in, and we could not figure out why,” recalls Ms. Denis. Conversations with seniors revealed that the government affiliation made some of them distrustful. “We had to rebrand. A lot of people didn’t like government being involved.”By shifting emphasis to position the NORC program, rather than Fulton County, as “owner” of the transportation coupon concept, resistance faded. Ultimately, the enthusiastic response to the program led the county Office on Aging to replicate transportation coupons elsewhere, and to review its entire approach.
“This has really transformed the way we are approaching transportation,” says Ms. Denis. Previously, the county had a “demand response” system in place that cost $25 per leg for scheduled rides, or more than double the $9 to $11 older adults typically pay through the coupon system. Moreover, the county had been providing the same service to everyone, regardless of the need.“We are relooking at our entire system to include other options,” says Ms. Denis. “Our experience with transportation in East Point has brought things to the surface that are changing how we do business.”
As any homeowner knows, upkeep on any home is a challenge, and so is finding trustworthy and affordable repair people. And when the home is more than 35 years old, as it is for most of the older residents of East Point, and the occupants are aging, it all becomes much harder.East Point’s “Safe Homes for Seniors” fills the void with volunteer handymen, mostly older adults. Residents pay the cost of the materials, which generally involve minor repairs. To connect with residents and to let the handyman get work done, another volunteer often comes along as a friendly visitor. And if the need goes beyond the scope of “Safe Homes,” the program’s coordinator refers seniors to other community partners such as Rebuilding Together Atlanta, which specializes in more major home repairs.
Along with making their homes safer and more comfortable, “Safe Homes” is a way of familiarizing older adults with the East Point NORC Program and ultimately of connecting them with the larger community. As of September 2008, a total of 312 residents have requested “Safe Homes for Seniors” services. Continued...