St. Louis NORC open to whole community for senior day trips

Karen Berry-Elbert


For almost eight years, the St. Louis Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) has supported healthy aging of older adults living in a three-mile area primarily in unincorporated St. Louis County. Manager Karen Berry-Elbert says the agency aims to expand its reach.

NORC’s health and wellness programs, as well as cultural and educational programs, are now open to all seniors 65 or older in the metropolitan St. Louis area.

“National research shows a direct link between socialization and good health,” says Berry-Elbert. “We felt almost an obligation to offer these programs beyond the area that makes up the St. Louis NORC.” Most of the programs are free, and you don’t have to be Jewish to attend. (Call 314-442-3255 for more information.)

Almost 50 communities across the country have functioning NORCs. New York, where the program began in 1986, has another 40, Berry-Elbert says. Jewish federations in more than two dozen states are involved in NORC programming. The St. Louis Federation sponsors the local agency, which commenced in 2004 after a two-year period of research to determine what people in the area wanted.

Berry-Elbert, 60, a member of Congregation Temple Israel, knows what they want, and she also knows that the local NORC is filling real needs. She made time recently to talk about all that and more.

Why open NORC’s free health and wellness programs to non-members over 65?

Why not provide socialization opportunities to the broader community? We tell our members to bring a friend, or even five friends, and we welcome anyone interested in attending. We meet at The Gathering Place in the Jewish Community Center.

Is NORC also inviting non-members on day trips?

Yes. We go to the many cultural gems in the St. Louis area and to other interesting places. We also make longer trips, to the wineries in Hermann, the Churchill Museum in Fulton and the Lincoln Museum in Springfield.

People outside the NORC area may attend these events, but can’t become members, correct?

Yes. Only people living within the boundaries may join.

What are those boundaries?

Lindbergh Boulevard is the eastern boundary and the east side of Craig Road is the western boundary. To the south, we include Coeur de Royale and Sarah Lane. There isn’t a clear marker to the north.

How many people in the area are eligible to be members?

We have about 1,600 people we consider potential members and about 650 paying members, ranging in age from 65 to 101.

What does it cost to join?

It’s $30 a year for one person or $45 for a couple.

What does NORC offer members?

Concierge services, but also a listening ear, personal attention. Membership includes reduced JCC membership fees, home modification services, minor home repairs and computer assistance. We also offer monthly health consultations, blood pressure screenings and home safety assessments. Plus, some local businesses offer discounts to members.

Apart from the obvious, how does NORC membership benefit individuals?

In our five-year evaluation, completed in 2009, 78 percent of our members said they were more aware of resources, and national research considers that one indicator of healthy aging. Over 60 percent said they felt a part of a strong community, and that contributes to good emotional health. Some 47 percent said they made new friends, which increased mental and emotional health. That translates to increased physical and social health.

When you add it all up, what do you have?

These statistics translate into people’s ability to age in their own homes in a healthier way. From our survey on health and wellness, which took place in 2010 and 2011, 73 percent of people who responded said the availability of NORC gives them peace of mind and reduces stress.

Why would anyone eligible choose not to join?

Some think we just serve “old people,” but our message is about enhancing people’s strengths. I see NORC members in their 90s living vibrant, robust lives-and that certainly is an inspiration to me.