(left) My Way workers, from left, Audrey Aner (transportation, office administration, food preparation) and Susan Weinberg (transportation, computer work) are seen in front of their Mt. Airy office. In addition to being My Way workers, Audrey and Susan are also members. (Photos by Jim Harris)

by Jim Harris

“My Way,” located at 7104 Germantown Avenue, is a not-for-profit organization offering a wide range of services to Northwest Philadelphia residents who wish to live independently at home as they age.

Membership is free to any resident of the service area (Chestnut Hill, Mount Airy, Germantown, East and West Oak Lane, East Falls, Logan and Olney) who is 55 or older. There are no annual fees. Services are also available to non-members, but only My Way members are eligible for transportation services, discounted rates and the My Way newsletter. My Way uses only pre-screened, local resources.

According to Thomas S. Rittenhouse, President of the Board of Directors of My Way, “Our mission is to help folks live in place in their community as they age. This is especially relevant with a population of 77 million aging boomers, many of whom don’t have the option or the desire to live in retirement homes. We’re aiming for the ‘gap’ population — those not eligible for government assistance but not able to afford assisted living.”

Northwest Philadelphia was chosen to begin the pilot program because it had a lot of people in the target population and it also had some services for elderly adults available. In partnership with the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement (NIM), the program was launched in May, 2010. “It’s set up,” said Rittenhouse, “so that once it obtains financial sustainability, we’ll have a franchise model that will be able to open in other locations in partnership with local organizations.”

Susan Gueye, of Mt. Airy, is the Executive Director of My Way. “We’ve had 850 members sign up since we began on May 1, 2010,” she said. “Our numbers are slowly increasing, but we need a large volume in order to be self-sustaining. We charge members $18.75 an hour for any service. We have 15 part-time staff including a retired attorney, a Ph.D student and some fabulous handymen and women. We only ask our workers to do stuff they want to do, so they’re happy in their jobs. We’re constantly interviewing. I take this responsibility very seriously because we go into people’s homes. I always go out to meet new members before the first service. So far I’ve been in over 400 homes.

“We’re on call 24/7. A person will always answer the phone. Our goal is NOT to be business as usual. We’re mission-driven, and we’re really responsive. Just tell us what you want, and we’ll do it. We can drive you to the airport, feed your pets while you’re gone, water your plants, clean your house, and pick you up when you return. Cleaning can include whatever you want.”

My Way worker Danny Quick does yard work, heavy lifting and “muscle work.”

Delores Patrinos of Chestnut Hill had a large limb fall on her property. “I didn’t know what to do,” she said, “because these things used to be done by my husband. I didn’t have anyone with references, plus there were safety issues to be considered. Initially, someone from My Way came out and explained their services to me. I feel quite comfortable using them now. If they don’t have a person on staff who can do the job, they get you in touch with someone who can. For someone like me, who’s alone, it’s important to maintain the house. I can call them for most services.”

83-year-old Chestnut Hill Village resident Thelma Anderson has used My Way on two occasions so far. Ms. Anderson, a retired city worker, has arthritis and sciatica. “One day my son was not around,” she said, “and I needed to get to the bank and the post office. A taxi was not an option because I couldn’t send the driver into the bank for me. I was very impressed with My Way. The person who helped me was so courteous, understanding and willing. She took care of business for me at the bank and the post office, and she wouldn’t accept a tip.

“Another time, I was having terrible pains across my back. I called My Way. Susan [Gueye] was here in 10 minutes to take me to the emergency room. Susan is sincere, generous and truly concerned about people. You can feel that, especially when you’re in a stressful situation. They leave you with your dignity intact. It’s a needed service. I’ve tried other shared-ride programs, but when it comes to comfort, service and feeling at ease, you can’t beat My Way.”

For more information about My Way, call 215-525-5470, or visit mywayonline.org