My Way staff members (from left) Adia Sanders, Andria Hale, executive director Eric Wilden, Licensed Social Worker Barbara Kroberger and Ally Cooper. (Photo by Jeremy Jones)

My Way staff members (from left) Adia Sanders, Andria Hale, executive director Eric Wilden, Licensed Social Worker Barbara Kroberger and Ally Cooper. (Photo by Jeremy Jones)

by Jeremy Jones

Visiting the “My Way” offices at 7051 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy is like being at a grass roots campaign headquarters on Election Day. Team members scurry about with coffee and donut in hand, phones ring off the hook, and staff members answer the calls as they man the computers. And for some reason it’s not surprising when a neighbor stops by with his dog to drop off a lawnmower.

Known as “the neighbor that takes care of everything,” providing opportunities to give and services to receive, is what My Way is all about. So this week’s Shop Local column is a two-fer designed to inform local folks age 55 and older of an affordable resource for those in need of a helper or caregiver, and also to let folks in the area, age 18 and older, know of the opportunity for rewarding and meaningful, paid, part-time work.

With 78.3 million American baby boomers living the aging process, it is little wonder caregiving is the fastest growing job in the country. At My Way, a licensed home care agency, “caregiving” encompasses a wide variety of non-medical services under the umbrella of personal care, home health care and general everyday chores such as transportation, home repairs, errands, laundry and yard work.

Co-founded by the Ralston Center and the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement (NIM), My Way is a not-for-profit organization created with the “gap” population in mind – those who don’t qualify for government assistance. Providing a wide range of at-home services makes it possible for low- and moderate-income seniors in Northwest Philadelphia to continue to age in place, i.e., to live in their homes longer.

Within a few short years, My Way has gone from being a pilot project to a successful organization and community institution. The “growth chart” since its launch date of May 1, 2010, is quite impressive: July, 2011 – 850 registered members, 15 part-time caregivers; July 2013 – 2,300 members, 30 caregivers; May, 2015 – 3,500 members, 50 caregivers.

There is no charge for membership to My Way and no annual fee. You can stop by the office or call 215-525-5470 to arrange for a representative to visit you to discuss your needs. A team member, in-house licensed social worker Barbara Kroberger or Executive Director Eric Wilden will come to your home.

“The opportunity to sit in someone’s home, hear their stories and learn about their current needs is a great joy,” said Kroberger, who is the former director of Griswold Home Care in Flourtown. “Maybe it’s just having the honor of getting their day kick-started or spending time with them after they are discharged from the hospital.”

The cost for most services is $20.25 an hour. Transportation is generally $25 an hour, $30 for a ride to the airport. Handyman and yard work is $25 an hour.

“I’ve used My Way for transportation to the train and the airport,” said My Way member Dena Sher. “I’ve even had someone come to clean my fridge, and they do a beautiful job with my friend’s garden.”

“We are one-stop shopping for aging in place,” said Wilden who was assistant director at NIM before coming on board at My Way in 2012.

My Way caregivers vary in age and background, from college students to homemakers to semi-retired and retired professionals. Dave, 66, is a semi-retired musician who does light yard work, various errands and takes members where they need to go. He enjoys interacting with seniors and having a flexible schedule.

“People need to help each other,” said Dave. “The My Way concept is neighbor helping neighbor.”

Becoming a My Way caregiver (team member) requires an in-depth screening process which includes a face-to-face interview, a minimum of two professional references, a criminal background check, a drug test, a PPD skin test (standard for all health-care workers), and a competency exam, which is part of a State approved comprehensive orientation program. Pay starts at $10 an hour but may be higher depending on skills and specialized career experience.

“Something that’s evolved is seeing My Way as a force for not just our members but our caregivers,” Wilden said. “And we have an opportunity with Ralston Center and Ralston My Way to make it a better job for caregivers, and advocate on behalf of not just our members but our caregivers.

“We get over 1,000 applications a year. We are in a lucky position to be able to hire the best people for the job; people who are compassionate, intelligent and reliable. It’s a testament to a growing field and how popular it is for workers who want to enter into it.

“I’ve always felt that we are pioneering in a way – in the sense that My Way is a pioneering model. This is something no one else is doing. I get calls from other parts of the country from people wanting to replicate it in some way.”

The best part of his job, Wilden said, is “interacting with members and seeing the difference we’re making, and also knowing that we’re helping to create community by connecting caregivers and members. Our work at My Way is about creating community. Our mission is to help make life easier for people 55 and over.”

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