Understanding the Community

Learning as You Go

Because it was already providing some in-home services to older residents at Crestmoor Downs, staff at Jewish Family Services (JFS) had some basic demographic information about them. They also knew that most seniors felt unconnected to their neighbors, and that some of them could not remain at home without services.

But they had a lot of knowledge gaps. No one knew what type of additional services residents would actually use, or what it would take to bring people together as a community. The real push to learn all that came after Congressional funds were earmarked for a NORC program demonstration project.

The first Senior Connections activity at Crestmoor Downs was an Open House, held to introduce people to a program that was just getting off the ground. Four hundred people showed up, some in wheelchairs, others pushing walkers and oxygen tanks, to eat, be entertained, and have their blood pressure checked by a nurse. “The turnout told us there was a huge interest, and a need in the community,” says Jewish Family Service program supervisor Cathy Grimm. “But we still had to figure out what they truly wanted.”

Collecting data and insights

To build a fuller understanding, Jewish Family Services staff circulated an interest survey at the Open House, and soon afterwards put the survey under the doors of all residents age 60 and older (using a list provided by the management office).

The survey confirmed that the community had broad and varied interests, but it also revealed a few surprises. For one, residents were not particularly eager for medication management, personal care, or financial services. For the most part, they thought they had those bases covered. What they wanted were day trips, outside speakers and performances, and holiday events.

“The more we worked with them, the more we learned they didn’t want services, they wanted to come together as a community,” said Ms. Grimm. “Many of them didn’t know their neighbors and felt isolated. Their main concerns were knowing people and being able to do things.”

Another tool to collect data about the residents, and to give them a voice in ongoing operations, is the Resident Information Form. Distributed at the monthly Wellness Clinic and other program events, the form asks about family connections, social isolation, health status, and the ability to manage basic activities of daily living. As a snapshot of the community, the form also provided the baseline data essential to a year-long program evaluation.

The Residents Council, which has guided the Crestmoor Downs NORC program since its inception, provides still another opportunity for resident input.

What it means to be a NORC

When federal funds first became available for NORC program demonstration projects, the Allied Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Service chose two sites for the Denver launch. Since JFS was already working at Crestmoor Downs and the Allied Apartments, those seemed like appropriate settings for an expanded program.

Back then, staff thought a NORC program could be established anywhere there was a concentration of older people. There was just one problem: Allied Apartments was not a NORC.

Its three high-rise buildings were owned by the Jewish Federation and had been set up specifically to house low- and moderate-income seniors. A package of supportive services, including case management, access to social workers, and a meal program, were already available. There was nothing “naturally occurring” about the complex. Allied Apartments was an age-restricted facility that by definition excluded younger people.

During the 17-month federal demonstration project, JFS introduced many of the same activities at both Crestmoor Downs and the Allied Apartments. But at the urging of a potential funder, JFS staff also reached out to some of the people on the national scene who had been thinking about, and developing, NORC programs for a long time.

Those connections helped to sharpen the agency’s thinking about where it wanted to concentrate its energies. Since Allied already had some on-site social work services in place, JFS separated the two residential settings so that it could concentrate on building a new model. Residents of Allied are now supported through other programs while JFS continues to grow a NORC program in Crestmoor Downs.

The Daniels Fund, a Denver philanthropy that had given Jewish Family Service modest support in the past, recognized early that age-restricted housing was not a NORC. Daniels was interested in advancing the concept of a community-engaged NORC program, not paying for traditional services in traditional senior housing. With its $72,000 grant in 2007, it now provides about half the core support for the Crestmoor Downs program. Continued...


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