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Info and Assistance Where It's Needed the Most

June 15, 2006 By:
Jan L. Apple, JE Feature
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The buzz around the Rhawnhurst neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia is about an ecumenical program that is helping seniors while strengthening the community.

Established in September 2005, the Rhawnhurst NORC, a naturally occurring retirement community, is a collaboration of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Catholic Human Services and the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania. It provides services to people age 60 and over that live in a private home or apartment.

The primary funding is through Mellon Mid-Atlantic Charitable Trusts, with additional funding by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

A NORC is a significant cluster of homes, apartments or condominiums that were not designed with the needs of older people in mind. Residents may have moved to their neighborhood 40 years ago, raised their families and now feel increasingly isolated.

One of the goals of Federation's Center for Social Responsibility is to design programs that enable seniors to age with dignity while remaining independent in their homes.

"The most exciting thing is that this NORC is really working," said Elaine Griffin, Rhawnhurst NORC project coordinator, adding that its success has exceeded all expectations. "We found there were gaps in services, and we try to be as responsive as possible. We connect people to a service they need - providing information on Medicare benefits, sending help to fix a leaking pipe or recommending home-repair companies."

Griffin says the biggest demand has been for tasks like shoveling snow or raking leaves. "With the help of dedicated outreach workers and community volunteers, such assistance has been readily provided. It takes such a little effort to make a difference in a senior's life," she added, "something as simple as changing a light bulb or inviting someone to our monthly luncheon."

Rhawnhurst has a significant elderly population, an estimated 9,000 people over the age of 60, of Jews and non-Jews.

"No matter what their faith or background, the needs are very much the same," she said. "Many served through this grass-roots initiative are widows, struggling to maintain independence."

"This is an asset-based program and can be a model to other communities," explained Sam Rosen, project manager of SeniorCHAI, a Northeast NORC sponsored by Federation, Jewish Family and Children's Service, the Jewish Community Centers, the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service and Federation Housing. "What is unique is that clients are also participants empowered to use their skills and talents to help others. We often talk about the wisdom of age, but rarely do anything to utilize it. The essence of this program is that we are truly respecting and valuing the wisdom of the people we wish to serve."

For example, seniors are planning a visit to a neighborhood elementary school to read to students as part of United Way's Day of Caring. "It's all about meeting the needs of the residents while keeping them active, vital and connected," said Griffin.

Since NORC taps directly into the needs of seniors, Griffin maintains a community advisory committee comprised predominantly of seniors. "Our monthly socialization luncheons have attracted residents of all faiths," she said. "We feature relevant topics, such as a program about safety tips for seniors presented by two police officers."

To learn more, call 215-728-1330.

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