Understanding the Community

To learn more about Indiana’s NORC program demonstration initiative, NORC Blueprint interviewed Jennifer Bachman, M.Ed., Senior Projects Director at the University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community, who manages the Communities for Life program. The deliberate and focused strategy pursued by the State of Indiana in adapting the NORC program model to its diverse environments may be particularly informative and valuable to other states as they begin to think about reframing and reshaping the way they deliver aging services. 

NORC Blueprint: The State of Indiana implemented a demonstration program that included a controlled process with a great deal of technical assistance and additional resources.  Other states have pursued different ways of implementing NORC programs.  Why did Indiana choose to go with this type of demonstration program? 

Jennifer Bachman: The Division of Aging wanted to develop services based on the philosophy of NORC programs.  But it didn’t know whether the urban NORC programs in New York and the Elder-Friendly Communities model in Indianapolis would work for the range of neighborhoods found in Indiana.  So, the project was designed as a pilot and planning grant to answer this question, beginning with a small, but varied group of communities from across the state.

Also, the NORC program model was going to be a big change for our communities, which were used to having services delivered to them, and we realized they couldn’t provide services from day one. Based on our experience, I would recommend at least six months of planning and support to help a community understand what it means to do something from the ground up.  Building from the ground up presents a steep learning curve for everyone.

Could you describe the RFA (request for applications) process?  Why did you use such a structured approach, and what did you hope to learn from it?

We borrowed from New York State’s RFA, but we crafted it to meet our needs.  For example, since this was a planning grant, our RFA focused more on ascertaining what the applicants hoped to accomplish, organizational capacity, management structure, and so on, rather than on how they would implement services.  Also, the budgeting part was less prescriptive than New York’s, again because our program was focused, at least initially, on planning versus actual implementation.

Using a structured approach allowed us to gather as much information as possible about each of the communities, so we could be fair and neutral when reviewing and selecting the five communities.

Were you looking for specific types of communities?
Yes, we wanted a mix of NNORCs that reflected Indiana’s economic, geographic, and racial diversity.  But we didn’t set out to specifically choose, say, two urban and three rural communities, or communities from five different regions of the state.  We were looking for the best overall proposals.  It turned out that the five highest-scoring applications were extremely diverse.  We don’t know if that was due to our RFA process or if it happened by chance.

What criteria did you use to select the communities? 

We asked for various demographics about the number of older adults, the type of housing, etc., making sure they qualified as NORCs.  All applicants had to be not-for-profit organizations that specialized in housing, health, neighborhood development, or human services that served — or would serve — the local community.  Another criterion was that multiple service providers could participate, but one organization had to serve as the lead applicant and actively manage the planning process.  Applicants with strong community partnerships were given more consideration.  We also looked at their leadership, and at what the lead agency had already been doing in the community, trying to ascertain their passion and commitment as well as their capacity to run a NORC program and facilitate its growth.

How did you assess the strength of communities’ partnerships and leadership qualities?

We assessed their strengths through the information they submitted in their applications. We also requested letters of support from local aging services, residents, neighborhood associations, community and civic groups, not-for-profit organizations, area agencies on aging, businesses, and others.  The relative importance of all these factors — leadership, partnerships, the commitment of residents — became a topic of discussion in the review process.  These were fruitful discussions.

How was your review process structured? 

We developed a scorecard to evaluate each of the applications.  The applications were scored by a review committee, including two NORC program experts from New York and two from Elder-Friendly Communities in Indianapolis.  In addition, there was an expert in organizational and community development from another university.  Each member scored the applications independently.  We then brought the group together for discussions and to make the final selections.  No one from the State Division of Aging or CAC was involved in the scoring or the final selections.  We wanted a completely independent and unbiased review process.

How was the demonstration program funded? 

The first year of the program was funded by a grant of roughly $885,000 from the State Division of Aging.  This came from monies that were already in the Division’s budget, but were reallocated by the director.  Out of that total, $375,000 went directly to the five communities for community building, planning, and program design.  The remainder went to technical assistance, provided by CAC, Elder-Friendly Communities, and the AdvantAge Initiative Survey, plus an independent evaluator.  So each NORC program was initially awarded $75,000 for program design and implementation, plus the cost of technical assistance from CAC. 

After the first year, the State Division of Aging provided six months of bridge funding totaling $500,000.  Of this, $75,000 went to each of the communities, allowing them to begin program implementation, execute their banner issue, strengthen community partnerships, and seek additional funding and support. The rest went to technical assistance.

Beyond that, we’ve asked the state for an additional $750,000 to sustain the programs for the next two years.

Was there a match requirement for each community?

Matching funds were not required for the first year, although applicants who applied with in-kind or matching funds were looked upon favorably.  Also, applicants were required to demonstrate the ability to raise matching funds by the end of the grant period.  

Have the communities raised funds on their own?

Yes, all of the NNORC programs have been able to raise funding or arrange in-kind services.  For example, one program got a Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Another community partnered with its county health department, which had received funding for senior services.  Another program arranged for social work students from the local university to create surveys, canvas the community, analyze the data, and produce a report. 

When the planning grant started, we were uncertain if we were going to receive additional funds for program implementation.  Still, by the end of the planning grant phase, every single one of the communities came back to us and said, “We will continue our work regardless of whether we get more funding from the state.”  That was a joy to hear.  Also, we’re finding that once a community has been galvanized, people come knocking on their door, asking, “How can we partner with you to meet your community’s needs.”

I feel strongly that a NNORC community should not get a large pot of money to start.  It’s better if you provide some seed money and say, “Start the process, and let’s see what happens.”  They were all amazed at how much they were able to do with $75,000.  The enthusiasm and creativity and the partners with the in-kind services emerged because they had to. Continued...

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