Supportive Services Programs in Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. Services Programs and Community Organization

The organizational capacity and governance structures within communities that are demographically NORCs differ from community to community and are important factors in the development and operation of supportive services programs in these communities. The NORC organizational structure may exist before the services program or it may be established in response to the program. It may be instrumental in program development and operations or it may be more passive. Similarly, services programs might develop as the product of internal or external forces. An internally driven services program might be a response to the expressed needs of the residents. Alternatively, an existing community organization might recognize unmet needs of residents and approach building management for permission to provide activities or services, resulting in an externally driven program.

The origin and governance of the program can influence program operations. For example, an internally driven program is likely to have a lower need for outreach and communication than an externally driven program, at least initially.

Whatever its origin, a services program generally requires some structure that can serve, at the very least, as a point of contact between the program and community residents and, more expansively, as a way to explore residents' needs and preferences and measure program outcomes. The organizational structure can be internal to the community or external, or the responsibility can be shared. The structure is likely to influence how the program evolves; a predominantly externally operated program might be more influenced by the services the program organizers have historically offered in such settings, while an internally operated program might be more responsive to changing resident desires. Further, if the services program relies on an existing community structure, then the level of initial trust is likely to be higher than if the services program creates or imposes a new organization on the community.

Internal and external structures each have advantages and disadvantages. An internal structure might be better placed to identify resident needs, but might be hampered by cronyism or lack of professional insight. On the other hand, an external group might concentrate on the services it has historically offered rather than design new ones to meet the expressed needs of community residents. External groups may or may not seek the residents' input during program design. In practice, an organization may not be purely internal or external. The challenge is the same--to establish good communication between the residents and the program's organizers and service providers.

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