Naturally occurring retirement communities help seniors
Have you ever heard of a natural retirement community? You may not know it yet, but some local communities and neighborhoods are already trying to organize themselves around this great idea.
Natural Retirement Communities (NORCs) are self-help communities that began to spring up in 1992 with the founding of Community Without Walls in Princeton, NJ. They are not a formal community, but occur naturally in neighborhoods of small towns and urban areas, and are not cohabitation.
They offer a very popular alternative to moving into a seniors’ residence, as the goal of a NORC is to keep seniors in their own homes. A NORC “is a community that has a large proportion of residents over the age of 60 but has not been specifically planned or designed to meet the needs of older people living independently in their homes,” according to Wikipedia.
Often started by grassroots older activists, NORCs connect older people with other older people and leverage numbers so they can collectively provide the services older people typically need. If seniors need help with minor repairs, a trip to the doctor, groceries, or meal depot, NORC can coordinate these services, often at a reduced cost. Volunteers are a big part of the success of these groups.
Some “villages,” as they like to be called, also include health care coordination. Large NORCs often have a central office that will coordinate home care, access to a 24-hour emergency line, transportation and more. Typically, they form alliances with home health agencies and other health care providers and providers. Dues are associated with these communities and can vary from $25 to $750 per year for a couple, depending on the level of services offered.
While NORCs were first identified in urban settings, they can be found in communities large and small. They can be geographically defined by boundaries such as an entire apartment building, a neighborhood, or a more rural setting over a large geographic area made up of single and two-family homes. Sometimes a NORC is not a physically connected place, but loosely organized around a church, synagogue, or fraternal organizations.
As Gainesville attracts more seniors and our existing neighborhoods age, what can we do to encourage NORCs to thrive?
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NORC programs are generally supported by a combination of public and private funding. This could be a combination of government agencies, corporations and non-profit organizations. These core partners connect to many other actors in a community – typically local businesses; civic, religious and cultural institutions; public and private funders; and local police and other public safety agencies.
The federal government has funded about 40 NORCs because the elderly population is growing so rapidly across the United States. There is now a national organization called Community Without Walls whose mission is to “enhance members’ ability to age well and to be able to make choices that will enable us to age in place.”
By harnessing these resources for a common good, NORC programs help transform a community into a great place to grow old. There are very famous NORCs like Boston’s Beacon Hill Village. Founded in 1999, it is recognized as one of the oldest and most successful NORCs in the country. I strongly encourage you to visit their website, www.beaconhillvillage.org to get an idea of how these communities can work.
Reminds me of a top notch Life Care community with no high entrance fees or having to move! Larger communities often have group fitness classes, conferences, educational opportunities, social groups, travel groups, group transportation to arts and cultural events, and more.
NORCs allow our seniors to age in place safely with the support they need. With nationwide staffing shortages in all healthcare settings, the effects of the pandemic on long-term care, NORCs are one of our best solutions for providing affordable coordinated care where the cost of services is shared or subsidized. Providing community services allows our seniors to stay independent longer and out of expensive care facilities that many cannot afford.
Doesn’t it make sense that government agencies and corporations do what they can to make this model work? As our municipal government explores affordable housing options, let’s keep our seniors in mind and do what we can to help them age well.
Star Bradbury (www.starbradbury.com) owns Senior Living Strategies in Gainesville.
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