It’s difficult to explain why, but national studies have shown that emotional and social health translate into improved physical health. And that’s exactly what St. Louis NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) sets out to achieve with its many programs and services, says program manager Karen Berry-Elbert.
An affiliate of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, St. Louis NORC is a non-sectarian program that serves seniors ages 65 and older, who live within a 3-mile neighborhood in the Creve Coeur area. A NORC simply is a geographic area with a high density of seniors. Often, they are formed by individuals aging in the neighborhood over a long period of time. But what makes St. Louis NORC special is that it’s currently the only officially recognized NORC-supportive program in Missouri, serving 1,600 residents, Berry-Elbert notes. “It was one of the first five communities funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging to develop an experimental way of delivering services,” she says. It began as a public-private partnership of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Washington University Center for Aging and several other service agencies, and continues to have partnerships that provide its members with a variety of benefits.
NORC provides many programs that are available to any senior in the community, regardless of whether they live in the geographical boundary. Those include cultural, health and wellness programs, as well as educational ones. “Anyone can participate in our day trips—most recently we visited the Missouri Botanical Garden. We try to make sure our folks have an opportunity to visit all of our community gems, and get their fix of cultural and educational offerings.”
Apart from those services, St. Louis NORC also offers added benefits to members, who pay a nominal annual fee. “We also subsidize it, so what you can afford is what you pay. No one would be turned away because they can’t pay,” Berry-Elbert notes. Members have access to NORC’s band of volunteers, who are available to perform simple but important services around the home, such as computer assistance, changing light bulbs, fixing a leaky faucet, flipping a mattress, or whatever needs to be done. “They’re things we might take for granted, but the reason we put the volunteer services at a high premium is that every day you lose some capacity,” she says. “It wasn’t so long ago you could flip your own mattress or reorganize your closet; but as you lose those capabilities, a lot of people want to throw up their hands and say, I can’t do this, I have to move. Let’s get rid of that frustration, because we can take care of these small things and you can stay where you are. Ninety percent of the population wants to age in their own home.”
Other member services include a discount to use at area businesses, monthly nurse visits, blood-pressure checks and in-home safety assessments from occupational therapists.
And the results are definitive: 62 percent of respondents in a NORC survey said that living in the NORC made them feel like they were part of a strong and growing community; and the average age for moving into assisted living in the 3-mile area is 87, five years older than the national average. “People say that living in the NORC gives them comfort and a sense of safety. They feel more connected to the neighborhood and to one another,” Berry-Elbert says, adding. “We give them reasons to leave home and be amongst friends.”
For more information about NORC, call 442-3859 or visit jewishinstlouis.org.
Volunteer Spotlight: Andrew Goldfeder
Andrew Goldfeder first heard about St. Louis NORC when he ran across a pamphlet at a leadership class through the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Young Professionals Division (YPD). “I started to look into it and immediately thought this was right up my alley,” he says.
Goldfeder contacted NORC to learn about volunteering, and has been involved ever since—for six years now. He has always had a passion for working with older adults, a passion that also plays out in his day job as the museum coordinator at the Holocaust Museum & Learning Center. “What I like about NORC is the program allows older adults to maintain their independence in their own homes, but still have assistance here and there to help with little things,” he says.
As a volunteer, typical tasks Goldfeder helps with range from changing light bulbs to flipping mattresses and yard work. “I installed a door-knocker on a woman’s front door in her condo. They’d had a fire drill and she was hard of hearing, so she never heard the alarm. The fire department suggested that she install the knocker to help with being notified.”
Goldfeder says it’s rewarding to see people he’s helped out in the community. “I work and go to the gym in the NORC area; so when I approach them at a restaurant, I can automatically have a friendly rapport. It allows them to understand that they’re an important part of the community and they haven’t been forgotten. In no way is that a pity party, but we can befriend each other and feel like a community.” He adds that it’s not uncommon to visit someone to change a light bulb and then stay for an hour just for of the conversation. “It’s a huge learning experience. You never know who you’re going to meet and what kind of story they’re going to tell. We’re changing their lives, but they’re changing our lives, as well.”