Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

What is a NORC?

Written by Karen Berry-Elbert, manager at St. Louis NORC

The vast majority of adults aged 65 and older still live in the homes in which they raised families and developed social networks. As the American population continues to age, more communities are home to growing populations of residents who have aged in place. In addition, national research shows that the majority of older adults (90%) want to remain in their own homes as long as possible.

When the percentage of such older residents becomes disproportionately large in a given neighborhood, it can be defined as a naturally occurring retirement community (NORC). NORC Supportive Service programs are a natural response to this evolution.

The mission of St. Louis NORC supports the healthy aging of adults 65+ in their own homes by providing opportunities for meaningful community involvement and increased access to support services. The NORC operates within approximately a three-mile service neighborhood in the Creve Coeur area in unincorporated St. Louis County.

History of St. Louis NORC

St. Louis NORC, a non-sectarian program coordinated by the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, has been operating for 13 years. In 2002 the Jewish Federation received a major federal grant to test this new aging in place model – the NORC Supportive Services Program. The federal government was seeking innovative ways to serve the current and growing older adult population. Clearly institutional settings were no longer desirable nor a long-term answer. Partnering with the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at Washington University, the current NORC activities and services grew out of research conducted by faculty working with the Center to determine the needs, service gaps, and profile of the residents living within its boundaries. It was the only NORC Supportive Services Program in the mid/west county area and was the sole, officially recognized program in the state of Missouri until 2014, when a similar program was initiated in the Kansas City area.

There are approximately 1,500 individuals receiving quarterly NORC program communications and a paid membership of 650+ individuals. Activities (health and wellness, educational, cultural workshops, dining out opportunities, and bus outings) are open to anyone in the 65+ age group in the metropolitan area as is information and referrals.

Volunteer opportunities abound as well. For residents, we provide a platform for them to offer programs in areas of their own expertise or interests. Currently a member, who is also an artist, has been giving quarterly art lessons for those who never thought they could paint; others offer travelogues on their fascinating trips, or organize interest groups (think book group, creative writing group, etc.).

The program also offers its members free volunteer minor home and computer assistance, cost-sharing for home safety adaptations, reduced fitness fees at the Staenberg Family complex, and discounts for foot and hearing care, an emergency response system, and at local businesses. Each of these benefits deliberately eliminates barriers to remaining at home and provides supports/services to achieve that goal.

Program Impact

The impact and sustainability of the NORC is most dramatically seen in residents’ perceptions. A 10 year evaluation found significant results such as:

  • 71% are more aware of community resources
  • 56% feel part of a strong community
  • 54% feel NORC helped them continue living in their own home longer
  • 52% report meeting new friends

The excerpt below underscores the impact of the NORC on its constituency.

“In my constant search to find an organization where I make new friends, have many activities to help me not only grow as a person, but where I feel I can both receive and contribute, NORC is the only organization I have found that fills all these needs.” — Participant

Volunteers also see benefits.

“I’ve been a NORC volunteer for five years. I help people in their homes with computer questions and handyman stuff. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I get the benefit of meeting folks with a wealth of knowledge and life experiences, and I find myself staying longer than the job requires at their homes just because I want to hear more.”  — Volunteer

In this month of celebrating older adults Aging Out Loud, St. Louis NORC strives to continue supporting residents’ taking more active roles in programming, fitness, advocacy, and generally enjoying life well into their 90s in the community they choose.

To learn more about St. Louis NORC visit our website.