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Empowering Communities Through Place-Based Care

In the landscape of human services, a transformative trend is taking root—one that emphasizes the importance of place in shaping the delivery of care and support. This change in thinking recognizes that communities are more than just geographical locations; they are dynamic ecosystems of relationships, resources, and resilience. Place-based services represent a departure from traditional models of care, which often focus on addressing individual needs in isolation. Instead, they embrace an integrated approach that acknowledges the interconnectedness of social, economic, and environmental factors. By anchoring services within the fabric of communities, organizations can better understand and respond to the unique challenges and strengths of the people they serve.

Across the nation, place-based interventions have gained traction as a promising approach to human services. Research indicates that such initiatives not only improve access to support and resources but also foster social cohesion, reduce disparities, and enhance overall community well-being. According to the Urban Institute, community-based programs that integrate services with neighborhood resources have shown promising results in improving health outcomes and strengthening social networks.

The concept of place-based services represents a departure from traditional models of care, emphasizing the importance of embedding services within the fabric of communities. As organizations like JFS Rochester embrace this paradigm, they are redefining the way support and care are provided to individuals and families. Through tailored supports and resources, these initiatives empower residents to thrive within their communities, fostering a culture of connection, collaboration, and collective action.

At JFS Rochester, our commitment to place-based services is evident in our programs at The Rochester Highlands and our Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) at the Ellison Park Apartments. These initiatives go beyond mere service provision; they embody a philosophy of empowerment, collaboration, and community building. By engaging residents where they live, work, and play, we create spaces for connection, support, and collective action.

The Rochester Highlands serve as a prime example of the power of place-based interventions. Nestled within a vibrant residential community, our programs offer a range of supports and resources designed to enhance the well-being of individuals and families. These include summer programming for school-age children, groups for parents for caregivers and young children, exercise classes, seasonal celebrations, and a community garden. From educational workshops to social activities, we collaborate with residents to build offerings that foster a sense of belonging and empowerment throughout The Rochester Highlands community. As much as possible, programs aim to be intergenerational to engage residents of all ages to come together for social and learning opportunities. Resident feedback supports this model of place-based services. 93% of residents who participated in programming reported their sense of community and belonging increased after participating in programs. Beyond feelings of inclusion, 88% reported that their eating habits improved, 88% that their mental/emotional health improved, and 79% that their physical health improved. These are tangible results that help communities grow, thrive, and prosper together.

Specifically for Rochester’s older adult community, neighborhood-based models embrace the concept of “aging in place.” This approach recognizes that seniors are more than just individuals in need of care but are active members of their communities with valuable skills, knowledge, and social connections. Aging in place, or the ability to remain in one’s home and community as they age, has been shown to have positive effects on both physical and mental health outcomes. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that older adults who lived in their own homes and communities reported fewer chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, and had a lower risk of falls than those who lived in institutional care settings. Aging in place can also help to promote social connectedness and reduce the risk of social isolation, which is a common problem among older adults.

JFS manages our community’s only NORC which stands for Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. A NORC is a community or neighborhood with a growing population of older adults in which the dwellings were not purposefully intended for older adults when they were originally designed or built. By offering tailored services and supports, we enable seniors to maintain independence, access resources, and forge meaningful connections with their peers. Through our efforts, we aim to create communities that are age-friendly, inclusive, and supportive of all residents.

In our community there is immense potential for further innovation and collaboration in the realm of place-based services. While specific projects may vary, the overarching goal remains the same: to create inclusive, equitable, and supportive environments where all individuals and families can flourish. As Rochester considers new possibilities for place-focused services and program delivery, it’s essential to draw inspiration from best practices from around the country and those that have already taken root locally.

Settlement houses, or neighborhood centers, have historically played a vital role in fostering community cohesion and addressing social issues. Originating in the late 19th century, settlement houses emerged in response to the challenges of urbanization and immigration. These centers offered educational programs, childcare services, healthcare assistance, and vocational training, among other initiatives, to empower residents and improve their quality of life. By promoting cross-cultural understanding and collaboration, settlement houses helped to bridge divides within diverse neighborhoods and fostered a sense of belonging and solidarity among residents.

In Rochester, the settlement house movement took root with organizations like the Southwest Area Neighborhood Association (SWAN). From offering after-school programs to organizing cultural events and advocating for affordable housing, these neighborhood-anchored community centers have served as hubs of support and activism. They also prioritize youth and multigenerational engagement as integral components of their community-building efforts. They provide safe and nurturing environments where young people can access educational resources, mentorship programs, and recreational activities that promote positive youth development. By offering spaces for intergenerational interaction and collaboration, these centers foster mutual respect, understanding, and shared learning experiences among residents of all ages.

Place-focused models are especially important for parent-focused programs because of the significant role that the physical and social environments play in shaping parenting practices and child development outcomes. By improving access to services, recreational facilities, and social networks, parents feel more connected, supported, and capable, enhancing their ability to nurture their families and care for themselves.

This is being done successfully in many areas of the country including at The 92NY Lipschultz Parenting Center, which serves as a resource for families navigating the challenges of parenthood in a sprawling urban environment. Located in New York City, this center embodies the principles of place-based services by recognizing that parenting is both a personal journey and a communal effort. The center facilitates connections among parents, caregivers, and experts, providing a supportive environment where individuals can access tailored resources and programs designed to meet their needs.

Similarly, in Boston, The Center for Early Relationship Support at Jewish Family & Children’s Service exemplifies the integration of place into the delivery of parent-focused services. By anchoring its programs within familiar local settings, the center fosters a sense of belonging and trust among families, providing spaces where they can seek guidance, forge social connections, and access culturally sensitive resources. From breastfeeding support groups hosted in neighborhood libraries to tailored home-visiting programs, the center harnesses the power of place to strengthen family bonds, promote resilience, and nurture the well-being of Boston’s diverse communities.

It’s easy to imagine how a parenting center like those in Boston and New York might work for the Rochester community. By providing a one-stop shop for resources and support, it could empower parents to navigate the complexities of parenthood with confidence and resilience. How could this approach foster connection with other place-based services in terms of intergenerational programming, comprehensive health care support, or other needs that address Rochester’s specific concerns? But the vision for any place-based offering goes beyond the population it serves or its specific programmatic offerings. It embodies a broader philosophy of community empowerment and collective action. By engaging in partnerships with local organizations, schools, and community groups, they can become a focal point for collaboration, innovation, and advocacy. They can also serve as a catalyst for positive change, fostering a culture of support and belonging, for the entire Rochester community.

As we consider the possibilities for place-based services in our own community, it’s important to envision new horizons and embrace a spirit of creativity and collaboration. While specific projects may evolve over time, the underlying principles of empowerment, equity, and community engagement will remain constant. By working together—across sectors, disciplines, and perspectives—we can build a future where every individual and family can thrive.

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