Sustaining a NORC Program

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Guiding Principle # 7

As an agent of change, a NORC program reflects and challenges its partners and the community it serves.

Actions and Considerations

Examine your program to consider how it is contributing to change. Continually critique your plans, budget, and activities to see whether they are relevant to your mission and support your larger purposes. Involve seniors in this process, and expect to conclude that some activities should be discontinued and others should be added.

Ask hard questions about your success as an agent of change. At least once a year, take stock by considering what you are doing that goes beyond the typical activities of service providers. When you have a list of projects and strategies that highlight your role as change agent, ask:

  • Who is involved?
  • Who is benefiting (seniors, program, community, service providers)?
  • How is the NORC program contributing to the outcome?
  • What would happen if it were not here?

Look for patterns in your responses. In particular, look carefully at the role that senior residents play, and the benefits that accrue to them.

Imagine the future. Create a process for bringing together seniors and other partners to develop a wish list of issues you would like to tackle. Don’t limit that list to what is possible with current funding or existing service provider relationships.

Learn the rules of surviving as a change agent. You should:

  • Halt approaches that don’t work, have grown stale, or are better done by someone else.
  • Listen to others in the community to ensure that the changes you make are the ones they care about. You can not be a community of one.
  • Challenge your partners to take risks, while acknowledging the realities that could constrain them.
  • Avoid the role of noble or heroic leader. Assuming the entire burden can make your partners feel criticized or unappreciated, which leaves them unmotivated to work with you.
  • Build leadership and community organizing depth. Mentoring others to take on new challenges invigorates your program and signals its strength to partners and funders.

Keep in Mind

A NORC program never gets too comfortable. If there is no tension as you consider your next phase of action, your role as a change agent may not be vigorous enough. Pushing for change may well involve stirring things up.

The diminishing participation of partners or volunteers may be a sign that your NORC program has begun to take a business-as-usual approach. If seniors revert to a more limited role as clients, rather than active participants, they may lose interest in your work.

Being a change agent:

  • Keeps things interesting. Bold and innovative programs attract energy, attention, and revenue.
  • Demands that you push boundaries, instead of succumbing to the gravitational pull of business as usual.
  • Enables you to redefine the roles of senior residents. In a NORC program, they are not clients, but empowered and empowering partners who are acting to build community.
  • Gives you the responsibility to pull service providers out of their traditional roles and rules, and into unfamiliar terrain.
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