Vital Aging Network

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VAN Forum

Supporting and Advocating for Vital Communities

December 9, 2008
10:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Annette Sandler
Hadassah Zohara
Peggy Gaard and Gail Skoglund
Rita Kach

Lenox Community Center
6715 Minnetonka Blvd
St. Louis Park, MN 55426 [map]

The health and well-being of older adults is an important indicator of a vital community. Getting older adults engaged; ensuring that they have access to services; and providing options in housing, transportation, and healthcare has a positive affect on the lives of individuals and on the community.

St. Louis Park and Hopkins community leaders have taken an active role in helping to create a high quality of life for its seniors. The St. Louis Park NORC (Nurturing our Retired Citizens) project is at the center of the effort. Its mission is to enable older adults to remain in their homes and in their community for as long as they can with the support they need to be healthy, safe, engaged citizens. The project is a joint effort of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS), Sholom Community Alliance, and the St. Louis Park Senior Program at Lenox Community Center. The NORC Senior Advisory Committee guides every aspect of the program. NORC is focusing on four projects: a series of health and wellness lectures, a resource directory, congregational nurses, and a newsletter

The presenters will discuss the steps they are taking to involve community stakeholders in their efforts and plans for achieving their goals. Annette Sandler is NORC project coordinator. Hadassah Zohara is a congregational nurse from Beth El Synagogue. Peggy Gaard and Gail Skoglund are co-directors of Open Circle Adult Day and facilitators for the Hopkins Seniors Service Providers Consortium. Rita Kach is coordinator of St. Louis Park Senior Program.



On Tuesday, December 9, 2008 the Vital Aging Network hosted a forum that explored how to support and advocate for vital communities. The St. Louis Park and Hopkins’ NORC projects have been successful in supporting and advocating for vital communities in the area. Annette Sandler, the St. Louis Park NORC Project Coordinator, was the speaker for the forum. NORC, a nationwide program, nationally stands for Naturally Occurring Retiring Community. It is funded by the Federal Administration on Aging, and approximately 40-55 cities across the country have adopted this program. St. Louis Park made the NORC project their own, by changing its meaning to stand for Nurturing Our Retired Citizens because they felt it created an environment that allows for healthy aging.

St. Louis Park and Hopkins are two cities in the Twin Cities area that has adopted this national framework. Annette Sandler spoke about the success of the NORC project in her community. She began by discussing the housing infrastructure in St. Louis Park. Sandler has found that many of the homes in St. Louis Park were built after WWII and many older adults currently reside in these homes. Unfortunately, these houses are not equipped to handle its aging population as universal design was not a part of the construction in the 1940s. Thus, it is difficult for many older adults to “age in place.”
In recognition of this issue, and other aging trends, St. Louis Park began its work in planning for vital communities. The first thing the NORC project did was to create an asset map of the community. This map identified the strengths and assets currently existing in the community. The asset map allowed NORC to determine the service gaps preventing people from maintaining their independence in the community. The NORC program Organizers engaged the community by speaking with everyone and “beginning from the ground up.” The Organizers encouraged community members to talk about their needs. In fact, Sandler said that the community organizers did what the Mayor of St. Louis Park, Jeff Jacobs, always talks about; “Process starts with talking to everybody.” After gathering information and doing their “homework,” the goal of the NORC project became how to educate the community about existing services. For Sandler, this proactive approach costs less than responding to crisis. From this study, the NORC program put together an information and service booklet that identifies existing services in the community.

Sandler then provided an example of how successful talking can be, as she referenced the stop light that is located outside the Lenox Community Center. This stop light was built because community members spoke to each other about the necessity for seniors to safely cross the street.

Sandler then referenced Project 2030 completed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services whose aim was to determine the impact of the aging population on Minnesota.  It identifies four key areas of focus to prepare for an aging population. These four areas include:

1. Addressing basic needs
2. Optimizing health and well-being
3. Supporting independence for elderly
4. Promoting Social/Civic engagement

Sandler asked people to break into small groups and discuss what is included within these areas. A summary of what the group suggested be included within each area is outlined below.
Addressing Basic Needs:
1. Transportation
2. Affordable Housing
3. Universal Design
4. Clean water and air
5. Quality of life
6. Sense of purpose/dignity
7. Access/knowledge of service
8. Point of entry
9. Identification of isolated people residing in communities
10. Having people feel connected, engaged, and supported within their communities
11. Nutrition

Optimizing Health and Well-Being:
1. Mental Health
2. Connected/engaged support system
3. Available alternative health care
4. Whole person
5. Preventative health care
6. Goals-purpose-volunteering
7. Physical activity
8. Accountability
9. Maximize partnerships to help organizations etc “get out of silos”

Supporting Independence for Elderly:
1. Teach advocacy
2. Supporting caregivers
3. Technology – Tele health care
4. Proactive in home health
5. Faith-based interaction
6. Rehabilitation therapies to maximize ability
7. Transportation
8. Safety-home modification/universal design

Promoting Social/Civic Engagement:
1. Improving education and life-long learning to ensure people have choices for resources
2. VAN Forums
3. Shared power/collaboration and leadership
4. Community organizers
5. Advocacy/teaching (intergenerational)
6. Reverse ageism/roles
7. Volunteerism   

By talking with people, identifying services/service gaps, and utilizing the research from Project 2030 NORC is  supporting and advocating for vital communities.

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