Understanding the Community

NORC programs are built from the ground up to respond – at both the individual and community level – to the challenges of aging in place. The first step to building a NORC program is to understand the unique context in which it will operate. That means knowing who lives in this community and learning about its physical, social, and health infrastructure, and its resources. The nuances of a community also emerge from a sense of its history, values, and culture.

Creating a portrait of community strengths, limitations, and ways of doing business positions a NORC program to become a change agent, rather than a traditional service provider. This is not a process that should end when the NORC program is launched. There is always more to learn about a community, so knowledge should be continuously expanded and updated.

A NORC (naturally occurring retirement community) is defined principally through its geographic boundaries and its population of seniors; it may be located in an apartment building or complex, or in a neighborhood. Within a NORC, many other communities may also be represented. For example, residents may share interests (a community of theatre-goers, for example) or a common experience (service in the military). A successful NORC program learns as much as possible about each of those communities within a community.

Traditionally, programs for seniors have focused primarily on deficits – those things that are missing or problematic in a community – rather than on assets. But collecting information about community assets allows for the identification of the people, tools, and resources necessary to build relationships, strengthen social fabric, and involve seniors more fully in the world around them. The more that is learned, the greater the ability to develop a viable and responsive NORC program that can change the experience of aging in place.

Understanding the community prepares a NORC program to:

  • Identify key issues that should be addressed.
  • Develop a vision for the community as a good place to grow old.
  • Engage a broad range of stakeholders.
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