Crestmoor Downs NORC Program
Denver, Colorado

The setting

Landscaped parks and lakes wind around the mix of low-rise buildings and townhouses that comprise Crestmoor Downs, a rental apartment complex in the heart of Denver. Eight hundred units house some 1,400 people.

Diverse in age, income, and racial composition, Crestmoor Downs has a core of long-term residents who have been there for 30 years or more. But it also attracts newcomers, including older people from surrounding neighborhoods ready for easier-to-maintain spaces, and out-of-towners who move in to be closer to their children. And with its swimming pools, tennis courts, party and meeting rooms, and exercise facilities, Crestmoor Downs draws a substantial number of young people to its spacious apartments.

A few numbers:

At any given time, about half the residents of Crestmoor Downs are over age 60.

Household income among senior residents is distributed fairly evenly: one-third has annual incomes below $20,000; one-third has incomes between $20,000 and $30,000; and one-third has an income above $30,000 a year.

Some 250 seniors participate in the Crestmoor Downs NORC program. About 14% of that population is African-American, the remainder is Caucasian. Sixty-one percent of participants have earned a college degree.

The launch

Senior Connections, the name given to the package of services provided at Crestmoor Downs and at the Allied Apartments, a senior-housing apartment complex elsewhere in Denver, was launched quickly. It began when the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado knocked on Cathy Grimm’s door.

Ms. Grimm supervises all of the adult services programs at Jewish Family Service (JFS), a Denver-based nonprofit agency that offers a broad range of programs to anyone in need (without regard to religious affiliation or other identity characteristics). Earmarked federal dollars had become available for NORC programs in Colorado and the Federation was excited to partner with JFS to apply for this funding. Though time was short, the partners worked hard and submitted a successful application in record time.

After the earmarked funds were allocated through a 17-month Administration on Aging grant in 2004, Ms. Grimm set about learning what was going to be needed to start the NORC program. Back then, Ms. Grimm was new to NORC programs and had only a vague understanding of what it meant to be a NORC program. “I looked at it as providing services and being on the premises,” she said. “The idea that it was more of a community-building project developed later.”

The program

But learn they did. Senior Connections at Crestmoor Downs now has a tiny paid staff, with day-to-day activities managed by a full-time program coordinator and a half-time volunteer coordinator. Cathy Grimm, who dedicates about 10 percent of her time to the NORC program, oversees community outreach and provides the broad vision and leadership.

The program coordinator, a trained social worker, carries a caseload of residents who require care management services and schedules office hours to provide on-site information and referrals. She also supports the volunteer coordinator, and works closely with the housing and health care partners.

The volunteer coordinator oversees the volunteers -- most of them Crestmoor Downs residents -- who do so much to build community and keep residents safe and engaged, and produces the monthly newsletter of classes and events that get them involved.

The housing entity is engaged in three ways:

The owner makes a substantial financial contribution – some $48,000 in 2007, representing about 20% of the NORC program’s total budget, plus an in-kind contribution of space. (The apartment complex changed hands in 2007, with ownership moving from a small, family-owned business to a large, Atlanta-based corporation. NORC program staff immediately began the process of educating the new owners about the program.)

Recognizing the program’s value as a marketing tool, the leasing office distributes its monthly newsletter to prospective tenants.

The management office is in regular touch with the program coordinator, who gets the first call when an older resident needs special attention.

Two health partners – the Dominican Sisters Home Health Agency and Rose Medical Center also play pivotal roles:

With private foundation funds, the Dominican Sisters run a weekly Wellness Clinic, staffed by nurses who check blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight, and teach residents strategies for staying healthy.

Rose contributes $25,000 annually to support the Crestmoor Downs NORC program, and provides expert speakers – including dieticians, physicians, and physical therapists -- for Snacks and Facts, a regular series on health topics identified by the seniors. “Residents have become more familiar with Rose and its doctors and the medical center has gotten publicity and goodwill from the community,” said Ms. Grimm.

Program activities vary, depending on demand and interest, but at any given moment they might include a book group, a Scrabble tournament, a grief group, a political discussion, and a yoga class. There are ice cream socials, local outings, and a monthly potluck birthday brunch, all of which rely heavily on resident volunteers. “We use any excuse we can find to bring people together,” said Ms. Grimm. “Gradually people have gotten to know each other and gotten to know us, and they are participating more and more.”

A feeling of friendliness

Edith Long, 80, moved to Crestmoor Downs a few months after losing her husband of 57 years. The house they had shared for almost four decades had become too much responsibility, and his absence was too acute.

Ms. Long quickly became an involved volunteer and while she values all the activities, there is something more about the place that has allowed her to build a new life. “It is a feeling of friendliness,” she said. “It is the companionship, it is not being lonely.”

Amidst the losses that accompany aging, says Ms. Long, “it is the warmth of knowing there is an ever-increasing circle of new people to meet.” Continued...

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