Helping the Vulnerable on Their Home Turf


Once upon a time, neighborhoods and the communal feelings they evoked were an integral part of people's lives, whether it was asking a neighbor for a ride to the doctor's office or walking down the street on a summer evening to play a game of cards.

But times have changed.

In today's fast-paced, high-tech society, the elderly, in particular, have become increasingly isolated. The "1996/1997 Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia," funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, found that 20 percent of people living in Jewish households are 65 or older, and 33 percent of these households are considered low-income. With this in mind, Federation's Center for Social Responsibility is designing programs to enable the elderly to age with dignity in their own homes.

"This is one of the biggest blessings we can give our elderly," according to center chair Nancy Astor Fox.

A lay/professional task force, the Coordinating Council for the Jewish Elderly, co-chaired by Karen Kramer and Sharon Ash, is overseeing initiatives in two Northeast Philadelphia neighborhoods described as naturally occurring retirement communities, or NORCs. Both are expected to be operational by the fall.

A NORC is a cluster of homes, apartments or condominiums not designed with the needs of older people in mind. Many residents moved to neighborhoods 40 years ago, raised their families and simply stayed. "Our goal is to allow the elderly to remain in their homes and make an array of services accessible to them," said center director David Rosenberg.

The Rhawnhurst NORC is an interdenominational NORC supportive services project, with Federation acting as part of a collaborative effort with the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and Catholic Human Services. Mellon Financial Corporation is the lead funder.

The Bustleton-Somerton NORC, with approximately 8,000 Jewish elderly, is a joint effort of Federation, Jewish Family and Children's Service, Jewish Employment and Vocational Service, the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia and Federation Housing working together to ensure that residents receive necessary services.

Sheva Cohen, center senior planner, explained that an added element of this NORC is that Federation will provide member services representatives "who will be just a phone call away from the elderly to link them to accessible services." These will include transportation, health and human services, a repairman or opportunities to socialize. The program will be coordinated by Sam Rosen, Federation's NORC project manager.

To learn more, call 215-832-0542.


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