St. Louis NORC receives inaugural Outstanding Community Partner Award

The Program in Occupational Therapy has chosen the St. Louis Nationally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC), a program of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, as the inaugural recipient of its Outstanding Community Partner Award. The award recognizes organizations that have developed and sustained a collaborative relationship with the Program, and share our vision, values and goals.

St. Louis NORC is a non-sectarian program that supports the healthy aging of adults 65+ in their own homes by providing opportunities for meaningful community involvement and increased access to support services. The program is considered a national model for aging in place and helping older adults to remain living independently.

“St. Louis NORC began in 2002 when the Jewish Federation and the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging of Washington University collaborated on the Administration on Aging - Aging in Place Initiative,” explains Karen Berry-Elbert, MSW, St. Louis NORC manager. “Instead of taking a prescriptive approach to addressing the initiative, the Jewish Federation chose to create a public/private partnership with the Center for Aging to learn firsthand what the needs, barriers and service gaps were of our population through surveys, assessments and observation. There was no more qualified partner than WashU to conduct the research with us. We used the results of the needs assessment to develop our program.”

During the past 14 years, St. Louis NORC members have continued to be involved in research with Program faculty. “St. Louis NORC gives our Program unprecedented access to a group of well-characterized older adults who are engaged in the research process and willing to participate in community studies,” says Christine Berg, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, associate professor of occupational therapy and of neurology. “They share our commitment to developing and delivering innovative, evidence-based interventions and building strong community programs. The leadership and staff recognize the importance of education and always enthusiastically welcome our students.”

Occupational therapy (OT) students are able to pilot new programs and hone their teaching skills at St. Louis NORC-sponsored events such as health fairs and community presentations. “Students gain real world experience and learn what the sensibilities and sensitivities are when working with older adults. And our members love working with the students and the clinical practitioners who come to their homes to conduct various assessments,” says Berry-Elbert. “The Program’s clinical service is our ‘go-to’ for providing safety assessments in resident’s homes. OT clinicians work with our contractors for them to install the necessary equipment – often at no charge as part of a grant or as a shared expense – and make the home environment as safe as possible. This is an enormous benefit to our members.”

The partnership benefits have been equally as significant for the Program.

“Agency partnerships that offer this level of access and commitment are rare. Because of that, St. Louis NORC has made a tremendous impact on our program. Their leadership, staff and residents support multiple faculty labs and classes, offer students customized experiences (outreach, teaching and research), generously share their resources, fund and implement programs developed within their agency, write countless letters of support, attend classes, and say ‘yes – what can we do’ when we call,” shares Susy Stark, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, assistant professor of occupational therapy, of neurology and of social work. “Those are just a few of the reasons Dr. Berg and I nominated St. Louis NORC for the Outstanding Community Partner Award.”

Berry-Elbert accepted the award on April 29 during the Program’s 8th annual Occupational Therapy Scholarship Day.

“A hallmark of the St. Louis NORC supportive service model is to be as collaborative as possible knowing we cannot, nor do we want to, offer everything ourselves. We utilize the existing community resources to their best advantage and bring others’ expertise to inform our programming and mission. This award is a wonderful recognition of that goal and we are so thrilled to be honored by the Program in Occupational Therapy,” says Berry-Elbert.

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