If you're 60 or older and live in Northeast Philadelphia, there's a retirement community for you — one where you can stay in your home.
Enter the Northeast NORC — naturally-occurring retirement community — set up by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Catholic Health Care Services for seniors in Northeast Philly neighborhoods to link up with volunteers.
Those who join the NORC pay nothing for membership. Additional services by volunteers such as lawnmowing, home maintenance, and meals delivery are also generally free. Skilled workers referred by the Northeast NORC charge regular prices but come with background checks.
A NORC is a community that has "a large proportion of residents over 60 but was not specifically planned to meet the needs of older adults living on their own," according to its website.
"The residents face various obstacles that make it hard for them to perform daily activities like shopping for food and taking care of their homes," said Abby Gilbert, project manager for Northeast NORC on Bustleton Avenue, formerly known as the Rhawnhurst NORC. "Despite these challenges, they prefer to remain in their own homes."
"We do everything from life checks on seniors in their homes, to driving them to medical appointments, to home repairs, to cleaning," she added.
More than 65,000 of Philadelphia's older adults live in the Northeast, as its once-booming neighborhoods grow older. Many Northeast Philly residents moved in after World War II and raised families there. Now they've aged in place, and their housing has aged, as well. The NORC serves more than 1,600 seniors and enlists roughly 400 volunteers, Gilbert said.
The Northeast NORC's budget totals about $307,000 this year, funded through grants from the Jewish Federation, the largest funder, and others, including the Etta and Bernard Weinberg Family Fund of the federation, the Pew Fund for the Elderly, and Catholic Health Care Services, Gilbert said.
"The budget was lower annually in prior years, but we expanded about 1½ years ago into three more zip codes, so our funding increased," she said.
Jack Belitsky is a client of the NORC, who joined after he retired from 36 years of teaching in the Neshaminy school district. He quickly also became a volunteer, and now hosts a book discussion group, a social circle, and a Yiddish conversation class.
"I can't do without the NORC. They were just here for spring cleaning. They put my air conditioner in, they moved my fridge to clean it behind there. They're a great referral service. They check all the skilled workers and recommend those people," said Belitsky, 78.
He joined the Northeast NORC 13 years ago.
"What prompted me to join? Getting older. I'm 78. I joined when I was 65. As I got older, I need help with various things like transportation. I don't drive anymore, especially when I do programs," he said.
Currently, his Yiddish conversation group meets the last Tuesday of the month at Congregations of Shaare Shamayim at 9768 Verree Rd., his current events group meets at Sidewater Apartments at Bustleton and Byberry Avenues, and his weekly book discussion meets at its NORC Klein Life center.
"I was very active in my congregation for years. I believe that serving others, especially seniors like myself, is necessary. They need socialization and activities that keep them aware," he added.
Seniors socialize at the Rhawnhurst NORC Klein Life Center, operated by the Jewish Federation in partnership with Catholic Health Care Services.Often the Rhawnhurst NORC's seniors are already receiving services from Catholic Social Services, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, the Veterans Administration, Jewish Family & Children Services, or JEVS Human Services. The idea is to make sure they're not isolated, as well.
"Isolation is enemy number one for the elderly," Gilbert said.
Keeping seniors healthy is another aim. Members of the Northeast NORC receive flu shots from drug store reps on-site, energy-saving lightbulbs from Peco, blood-pressure screenings, exercise at free yoga classes, and other Silver Sneakers classes at KleinLife.
To join the NORC, or to become a volunteer, contact Northeast NORC Monday through Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at 215-320-0351 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The nonprofit Riders' Club Cooperative has been transporting seniors for 33 years. In addition to individual seniors who join, the Riders Club partners with Cathedral Village, the Hill at Whitemarsh, Abington VNA Aging at Home, the Northeast NORC, the Wayne Senior Center, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia to transport clients for shopping, weddings and funerals, medical appointments, social functions, and religious services. Many of the drivers are seniors themselves.
The Riders Club also provides special-needs transportation for two suburban school districts and works with private schools and student families. For information, call 215-836-1376.
Another option? Seniors Helping Seniors, a franchise business that hires older adults in Greater Philadelphia. It matches seniors who want help with someone their own age. The franchises offer home care, companionship, and home maintenance at an hourly rate. The cost varies, but expect to pay about $21 to $25 an hour for basic care-giving services, which include companion and personal care, pet care, help with bills, phone calls, and respite for caregivers, plus mileage if errands are part of the job. Prices may be higher if you require a licensed nurse. Check the website for locations: seniorshelpingseniors.com.
The company is based out of Reading and tends to hire those over 50 years old. Pay generally starts around $10 an hour for senior employees.