How do you reach older adults living in a naturally occurring retirement community to involve them in on-site services when there are 4,500 residents?
Mary Springer, director of supportive services at Hamilton-Madison House Knickerbocker Village NORC in Manhattan, wrestled with the problem. Springer came up with a simple idea to reach older residents who need help: enlist “ambassadors” among the seniors already attending activities at the NORC to be the program’s eyes and ears, and give those ambassadors personal business cards – some in English and some in Chinese for Chinese-speaking residents.
The business card, with the name of the ambassador on it along with the phone number for the office, is essential. “The residents don’t all know Mary,” explains Vivian Lazi, who is an ambassador. “But I’ve lived here 45 years. The old-timers know me. When I see or learn of someone having difficulties … I can say to them, ‘Something seems to be troubling you. Call Mary. She can help you at the center.’”
“I’m telling them that help is available, and I’m personally vouching for it with my name on the card,” says Lazi, who points out that each volunteer ambassador has his or her own style.
Springer periodically puts out an invitation to become an ambassador. She maintains contact with the ambassadors through their attendance at center classes and in the lunchroom.
The Department for the Aging funds supportive services programs at Knickerbocker and other NORCs, which are places where residents have aged in place over a period of time.