Sustaining a NORC Program

Diversifying Funding Sources

Almost as soon as the federal demonstration project grant began, Senior Connections at Crestmoor Downs was preparing for its end 17 months later. “You get dollars, and as soon as you get them, you have to start thinking about how you will sustain them, said Cathy Grimm of Jewish Family Services. “It is the nature of the beast, you are always hustling.”

The NORC program’s strategy has been to tap multiple funding sources, but to ask for resources only in digestible amounts. Although program staff believed the Daniels Fund was willing to consider a larger request, for example, they were cautious about overreaching. They chose not to seek additional funds until they felt prepared to use them effectively.

In addition to Daniels, which now covers more than half of the NORC program’s 2007 budget, significant funds come from the housing partner and the Rose Medical Center. Senior residents also make meaningful contributions through membership and class fees.

Contributions from residents

In its first year, staff asked the Residents Council whether seniors would be willing to pay a membership fee for the NORC program. Participants basically dismissed the idea, saying, “most people are on fixed incomes, we can’t ask them to pay.”

But a year into its operation, that sentiment had shifted. During that time, staff made a point of talking about costs and budgets so that residents understood what was involved in keeping the NORC program running. They also knew they would eventually be asked to make a contribution. Ms. Grimm explained, “Our message was, ‘we aren’t asking you to pay upfront. We need to prove this is valuable to you. But after we have been here for a while, we are going to come and ask you to contribute.”

When that time came, the Residents Council recommended keeping the fee under $25 – so staff started a voluntary membership drive asking for $24. Residents put in almost $2,000 -- and they didn’t balk when warned that the fee, while still optional, would rise the following year. “The savings from the Wellness Clinic alone make the fee worthwhile,” said one resident. “We would spend a lot more for a doctor’s co-pay.”

Added Ms. Grimm, “it is hard to come in initially and charge, but somehow people need to understand they will have to pay.” In addition to the costs of membership, seniors put almost $4,700 into the budget through fees they pay for activities.

Bringing the housing corporation on board

When the NORC program first came into Crestmoor Downs, program staff approached the management office to pitch the concept. Grimm said, “Our approach was to say, ‘this will not cost you money. But we can help you keep seniors living here, and we can offer you a good marketing tool to attract others.’”

A year later, with federal funds dwindling and a track record established, that pitch changed. “At that point, we were able to say, ‘if you want us to stay, you will have to provide money because the earmarked dollars aren’t going to be there,” said Grimm. By then, NORC program staff could point to their accomplishments – including maintaining good tenants by keeping them safer in their homes.

The owner recognized the benefit. In 2007, the housing partner provided $48,000 in funding (plus an in-kind contribution of space), representing a little over 20% of the project’s budget. With the complex under new ownership, history may be repeating itself as the NORC program staff again sets out to demonstrate its worth, and only then to ask for support.

Moving the agenda

Sustaining a local NORC program means, in part, garnering broad-based support from the people who can help to institutionalize the concept at a higher level. Cathy Grimm participates in city, state, and national activities – meeting with local Area Agency on Aging staff, reaching out to the offices of the mayor, the governor, and other elected officials, and serving as a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging.

“Part of what we want to put out there is the whole idea of the NORC,” she says. “A NORC in Colorado may not look like a NORC in New York, but together we can push a more thoughtful approach to the whole idea of aging and community.”

With a similar goal in mind, Ms. Grimm helped to create the Aging Dialogue, which brings together a group of foundations that fund senior services in the Denver area. The group meets quarterly to talk about what they are funding and how they can use their money most effectively, and to identify trends in aging. Ms. Grimm has provided some education about the NORC program concept to the Aging Dialogue and everyone gets a chance to move outside their silos to consider the bigger challenge of serving older adults.

In 2007, Jewish Family Services began partnering with the University of Denver’s Geography Department to map seven major counties in the Denver region in order to locate seniors by neighborhood. The Daniels Fund is providing resources, with an eye towards identifying future NORC sites, and replicating a proven success.

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