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A Success Story in Chinatown

Since 2009, Hing Lin (Helen) Sit, LCSW, has managed VNSNY’s Chinatown Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NNORC). The program, based in VNSNY’s Chinatown Community Center at 7 Mott Street, provides health, social, educational, and recreational services to seniors in a 24-block area of Chinatown in Lower Manhattan, to help them age in place successfully.

How did you come to the Chinatown NNORC?

I was doing social work at another home care company when I heard VNSNY was looking to hire someone for their new Chinatown NNORC program. I really liked the concept and the fact that it focused on New York’s Chinese-American community, which is my community. I began at the NNORC as a social worker and was promoted to manager two years later. When I started in 2007, we had around 200 members. We’re now at 1,070. More than half our members are referred by other members, so word of mouth has really driven our growth.

What’s made the NNORC so successful?

I think it’s because we engage our members effectively. All of our seniors live in walk-up apartments, and many become homebound as they get older. Our nurses and social workers will visit them at home, and we also have a Telephone Homebound Support group. Our dedicated staff is fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese, which is extremely important as well. Moving VNSNY’s Chinatown Community Center to a new, larger location two years ago was another plus, because now there’s room for our members to drop by and visit. We also work closely with our local partners, including the Chinese American Planning Council, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (an umbrella organization for the Chinese-American community), New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, University Settlement, and over 40 community organizations.

How has the NNORC evolved over the past eight years?

Besides providing general preventive health services and educational classes and connecting our members with other local services, we’ve also conducted surveys to identify specific needs of our members. For instance, we realized early on that very few NNORC members were getting colonoscopies to screen for colon cancer. So we joined with our local partners to promote these screenings, with good results. We did a similar initiative with advance directives. Our latest focus is on mental health. It’s often hard to tell when an older Chinese-American person is feeling depressed or hopeless, because they may hide it. We’re now working to educate our members about mental health issues, and training our social work staff to identify signs of depression in our member population.

Are there any other developments people should know about?

While we’ve always been funded by the New York State Office for the Aging, we’re now receiving New York City Council discretionary funding as well. That began last year, and we just learned that the City Council’s support has been renewed for 2016. We’re also expanding our educational offerings. Besides our traditional courses in things like English and handicrafts, our newer members want to learn how to use computer tablets and smartphones—so I’m hoping our classes will become much more high-tech!

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