Sustaining a NORC Program
Guiding Principle # 5
A NORC program remains relevant by anticipating and responding to change, and refreshing itself with new people.
Actions and Considerations
Involve a broad and ever-changing cross section of residents to ensure the continued relevance of program activities. Throughout the life cycle of the NORC program, it is important to attract seniors who have not previously been involved. Fresh blood generates new ideas and energy, safeguards against stagnation, and ensures that small factions do not dominate program thinking.
Example: One way to involve more seniors is to reach out to new residents. The housing partner can be a good resource here; in several communities, standard procedure in the management office includes notifying NORC program staff when a senior moves in.
Refresh the NORC program with new organizational partners. Reaching out to new partners and providers revitalizes the NORC program, increases the pool of potential leaders and funding sources, shifts organizational priorities, and protects the program from slipping into a model that stagnates in the routine.
Example: The Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center NORC program, in Manhattan (New York), surveyed residents and learned that many were depressed and anxious, and lacked adequate mental health services. New partners with specialized expertise were needed to design an appropriate response.
Lincoln Square staff created the Partnership Council, a coalition of local agencies involved in the complex work of geriatric mental health; many of these agencies were working together for the first time. The council was able to offer the necessary support, which now includes screening residents for depression and offering them access to a clinical social worker.
Keep everyone talking to one another. Open channels of communication keep partners in touch with what is happening in the surrounding community and help invest new stakeholders in the NORC program. In particular, senior residents should have opportunities to tell their compelling stories. Never underestimate the importance of effective communication (see Sustaining Your Program, Guiding Principle #3 and Partnering with the Community, Guiding Principle #6).
Example: Many residents of the Deepdale CARES NORC program, in Queens (New York), depend on Access-a-Ride, a publicly funded, door-to-door transportation service for New York City residents with disabilities. There is just one catch: Deepdale sits on the border of Queens (a borough of New York City) and neighboring Nassau County, where many residents see physicians. But Access-a-Ride operates only within New York City.
“As a professional, I can talk until I’m blue in the face about allowing Access-a-Ride to cross county lines,” said Karen Schwab, director of Older Adult Services at the Samuel Field Y, Deepdale CARES’ lead NORC program partner. “But when we have a senior who is 85 and says, ‘I can’t get to my doctor any longer because he has moved across the county border, and I can’t afford the $25 taxi,’ that has a very different impact.”
So, on a bus chartered by the Samuel Field Y, Deepdale residents headed to Albany to testify in favor of changing the geographical restriction. Their compelling testimony helped get a bill passed by both houses of the legislature. While the bill was vetoed by the governor, the seniors plan to return to Albany and be heard again when the bill is reintroduced at the next legislative session.
Keep in Mind
A sustainable program is continually refreshed by the perspectives, passions, and energy of new participants. It is easy to grow stale when the same small group of people leads every activity. Involving new partners in meaningful ways keeps a NORC program fresh.
Service providers will stay engaged when a NORC program offers effective strategies for helping them meet their own organizational goals. Look for opportunities to demonstrate that your work serves their interests. Continue to Guiding Principle #6