In Phila., a model program helps seniors get connected

Posted: October 02, 2005

An innovative project in Philadelphia is easing the way for hundreds of older people who want to continue living in their homes and communities.

Services to Area Residents, or STAR, is linking older people living in the Bustleton/Somerton neighborhoods to an array of services with the goal of keeping them independent.

"The intent is to provide a safety net," said Lenore Wasserman Scola, a director at Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia, which sponsors the program.

Bustleton/Somerton is what is known as a "naturally occurring retirement community," or NORC. The term refers to neighborhoods, or apartment complexes, where at least half the residents are older than 60 and in need of services.

Rather than leave the inhabitants of these communities to fend for themselves - trying to find one agency for rides, another for home repairs, and yet another for home care - programs such as STAR bring help to their doorsteps and foster connections to social service agencies before crises develop.

Philadelphia, which has the largest number of people older than 65 in the region, has long had aging neighborhoods, making it an obvious place to try such programs.

Ideally, most older people would live in service-supported communities of the elderly as they age, keeping local ties developed over a lifetime and getting help as they need it.

The Bustleton/Somerton STAR program, which serves more than 450 residents, most of whom are Jewish and of low to moderate income, is hosting meetings at neighborhood synagogues over lunch with speakers on wellness, spirituality and other topics. That's the lure.

Once there, participants make connections with a social worker who assesses needs and a nurse who conducts health screenings.

On a recent day, Hilda Narod, 82, who lives in Oxford Circle, attended a lunch at Temple Beth Ami, where a rabbi spoke on spiritual wellness. "It's something to look forward to," she said of the monthly event where she has made new friends.

A STAR social worker has helped Narod, who does not have a car, get to the grocery store with its van service.

The two-year-old program is free. Soon, those who pay a yearly membership fee of $36 will get a representative to help find them services according to their needs. Home repairs and more transportation options also will be offered. The overall budget will be $1 million a year.

Jewish Family Services has long supported naturally occurring retirement communities. In the late 1980s, it brought services to high-rises in Center City with concentrations of older people.

The Bustleton/Somerton demonstration project is one of 45 around the country, including Cherry Hill. Jewish Family Services received a federal Administration on Aging grant, with the help of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which also is providing funding.

For more information on STAR programs in Bustleton/Somerton and Cherry Hill, as well as similar efforts in Overbrook Park, Elkins Park, Havertown and Rhawnhurst, call 215-698-4500.

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