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Helping Seniors Stay Connected

In graying neighborhoods, networks of volunteers assist elderly residents with essential home services.

Aging at home is the goal for most seniors, but the reality is often isolation, depression, unmet health-care needs and property deterioration. These issues eventually push people into their children's homes or assisted living. But community activists, often in city neighborhoods or older, close-in suburbs, are intervening to help elderly homeowners stay put. A "naturally occurring retirement community," or NORC, forms as a collaboration of social-service agencies, businesses, religious groups and neighborhood associations. NORCs have developed nationwide, led largely by the United Hospital Fund and United Jewish Communities. Federal and state governments and foundations help with grants.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta has helped create five NORCs near the city, based on a door-to-door survey of needs. Project director Deborah Akstein says that residents often just miss qualifying for local and state programs. One way that the federation helps residents is by offering vouchers to help them pay for home-health services, maintenance and repairs, transportation, and Meals on Wheels, or to take a class or a trip.

The East Point NORC started a walking club for supervised exercise. Members, ages 55 to 72, are escorted by a police officer or firefighter who checks blood pressure and pulse rate before and after. Bobbie Wing, 58, says, "I've been walking regularly since I retired in 2004, so my main reason for joining was to meet my neighbors." The group's jack rabbit, Wing encourages slower members to keep at it.

-- Pat Mertz Esswein