Designing and Implementing a NORC Program

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Guiding Principle # 1

A NORC program plans a core set of integrated services that meet individual needs and promote community change.

Actions and Considerations

Concentrate on specific priorities identified by the community. Informed by the needs of individual residents and motivated by a broader commitment to designing a supportive environment, a program should specify:

  • Core activities.
  • Staffing mix.
  • Who will do what.
  • Location and hours of operation.

Be sure your partners and stakeholders agree on what services and activities your program will offer. Available resources and the capacity of your partners will help you decide how to develop core services and what to emphasize first. The knowledge gained during the first steps of program development (Understanding the Community and Partnering with the Community) also provides a useful guide.

Consider the balance among core program components. Most likely, you will not focus your resources equally on community engagement, social work, and health care services at the outset. Initially, it is fine to emphasize one or two components, and then expand as you learn more and attract new resources. No program can do everything from the start.

Example: The Crestmoor Downs NORC program in Denver began with an agenda of connecting seniors to one another and providing opportunities for socializing. But when residents appeared at the first open house with oxygen tanks and wheelchairs, it was apparent that a health care component was also essential. The program reached out to a home health agency and a local medical center. At a weekly wellness clinic, nurses now check blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight, and teach residents strategies for staying healthy. The Snacks and Facts program brings in expert speakers—including dieticians, physicians, and physical therapists—to talk about health topics identified by the seniors.

Decide how you will initially reach residents. One option is to cast a wide net for individuals in need through a community-wide education campaign. An alternative is to focus first on the seniors who are already known to service providers, and then to build a broader community campaign from there. Each approach requires different staffing patterns and different resources. Both have the same goal: to involve residents in the life of the community more fully.

Be as present in the community as possible. Both your physical location and your hours of operation convey a message about your commitment and capacity. A NORC program is in, and of, the community. The more centrally located and visible you are, and the more hours you can keep your doors open, the more responsive you can be to your intended audience.

Example: Parkchester is an apartment complex that stretches across 121 acres of the Bronx, New York, and houses 50,000 people. NORC program partners there thought hard about where to put their office to underscore the commitment to being a part of the community. With seniors scattered across the vast site, no single location made that obvious. Instead, the housing partner agreed to provide a van service that runs a loop through Parkchester to bring residents to one central spot.

Keep in Mind

It is tempting to launch a program by placing a social worker on site to respond to individual problems. But first impressions are hard to change, and that approach may position your program as one that serves seniors with special needs, rather than promoting greater community engagement for everyone.

An effective NORC program offers a package of core services, enriching them with targeted, innovative projects that focus on specific problems. (For more on developign targeted projects, see Designing and Implementing a NORC Program, Guiding Principle #4.)

Continue to Guiding Principle #2

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