Evaluating Projects of a NORC Program

Easy Does It

The East Point NORC Program looks for simple ways to measure results. “We don’t need to prove that being more socially engaged decreases the costs of health care,” says Kathryn Lawler of the Atlanta Regional Commission, observing that an ample body of rigorous research has already answered that question. “We need to prove that older adults who weren’t active before are active now. And we can do that in ways that are efficient.”

The focus is on whether the programs do what they are designed to do—for example, allowing people to get to places they couldn’t reach before or giving them new eyeglasses. The measures may be simple counts of services provided or satisfaction surveys, such as those used to assess the experience with a home repair visit.

Two other examples:

When volunteers walked through the neighborhoods to reach out to residents and assess their needs, they asked everyone whether they had previously visited the Bowden Senior Multipurpose Facility, where the East Point NORC Program is headquartered. They also left a coupon inviting the older person and a friend for lunch at the senior center, which is known for the terrific food in its cafeteria.

The leave-behind coupons were printed in a unique color so planners knew when and where they had been distributed. Based on that information, they could count the number of older adults who visited Bowden as a direct result of outreach that took place during these assessments.

Drawing on a partnership with neighborhood associations, walking clubs have become a feature of the East Point NORC Program. Typically, small groups come together as often as three times a week, with some people walking a mile and others walking two or three. Many wear club t-shirts; police officers and firefighters, some wanting to lose weight themselves, often join in.

“This is a model that lets us deal with both public safety and isolation,” says Ms. Lawler. “It takes organization, motivation, and someone who wants to keep it going, but it is a very simple intervention that doesn’t take a lot of resources.” Yet, with its capacity to help seniors cultivate connections, “it has tremendous power to reshape the community,” she added.

And the results are easy to measure. Volunteers take periodic blood pressure readings at the start of some walks and keep records of them, along with weight and attendance. If these measures improve and attendance stays steady, the program is deemed successful. Continued...

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