Ralston My Way senior services to close

by Barbara Sheehan
Posted 4/14/21

After 11 years of operation, Ralston My Way, a respected nonprofit provider of services to older adults in Northwest Philadelphia, will cease operations May 4, 2021.

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Ralston My Way senior services to close

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After 11 years of operation, Ralston My Way, a respected nonprofit provider of services to older adults in Northwest Philadelphia, will cease operations May 4, 2021.

Ralston’s Executive Director Lynette Killen notified My Way members and employees in late March.  “Many factors,” said Killen “including difficulty recruiting caregivers, decreased levels of service requests, and the challenge of attracting new members during COVID-19, has made this difficult decision a necessary one.”

Ralston My Way’s Mt. Airy office, presently located at Mt. Pleasant and Germantown Avenue, will close.  Its parent organization, Ralston Center, will continue to operate out of their building at 3615 Chestnut Street, where they have offices and rent space to the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute on Aging, which operates Penn’s clinical and research programs in geriatric medicine.

Although the Ralston Center will continue to offer educational programs and fitness classes via Zoom, they will no longer provide the extensive array of services offered to help elders stay in their homes.

“I can’t express how very sad I am at the closing of Ralston My Way,” member Carlyn Nicholson lamented. “I’ve relied on them for lawn and garden maintenance, trimming hedges and small trees, snow removal, household maintenance/handyman repairs, clearing clogged downspouts, clearing roofs of debris, garage and basement cleanouts, and moving heavy furniture.”

Nicholson, 67, of Mount Airy, also drove for the program. She reluctantly relinquished her position after an ankle injury kept her from driving but was looking forward to returning this summer. 

“I have actively volunteered with children and animals, but My Way kept me connected to my own age group and with my seniors as well,” Nicholson said.

Ralston My Way is unique in that it offers personal care and home repair services for less than two or three hours, which is more flexible than most homecare agencies. They also provide a vetting process with extensive background checks for the home maintenance employees that are equivalent to what is provided at licensed home care agencies.

The program started in 2010 through a partnership with the Northwest Interfaith Movement (NIM), which has since closed.  At the time, Killen said, “the board felt there was a need to serve people in a gap position. Not the very poor or the very rich but those in the middle who had a difficult time accessing services.”   The goal was to provide services by trusted people from the community that would improve the lives of older adults who chose to stay in their homes.

According to Ralston Center’s 2019 Annual Report, Ralston My Way served 975 members for 24,967 hours of service during that fiscal year.   Funded through private pay for the services, the program also relies on Board allocations, private donations, and foundation grants.

My Way plans to provide members with lists of local businesses and agencies that offer similar services to older adults in our region. The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) will also contract with individuals for some of the services. 

Germantown resident Marilyn Jacob Silberstein, 76, joined My Way in 2014, when she was still working as a realtor. She drove for them part-time then and, since retiring, the demand for her services increased.  

“I loved the organization and what they did for the community, ” Silberstein said.  Although home health care is a big part of My Way’s program, she worries about the loss of services such as transportation for frail older adults.  As a driver, she provides personal care, such as helping her passenger get down their steps and to the car. She will do many short trips with multiple stops, such as to the bank, grocery store, and COVID vaccinations.

“The personal service we provide is not replaceable,” Silberstein said. “I have people calling me to see if I will still drive them.”

A former social worker, she values the time with her passengers, feels valued in return, and will continue to drive until their closing date. She would like to drive after that but worries about the liability of taking on the service as an individual not backed by an agency like Ralston.

About three years ago My Way offered Mt. Airy resident Stacia Friedman, a freelance writer, the opportunity to participate in a pilot program with Salus University. Salus social workers surveyed her apartment and provided a list of accident prevention tips such as installing a grab bar in the shower, and tacking down area and throw rugs. 

“I did everything on the list,” Friedman said. My Way even provided vouchers to help implement the changes.

“As we grow older,” she said, “our sense of balance and sure footing changes, and we aren’t fully conscious of it because the change is incremental.”

Friedman was grateful for this intervention and feels safer in her apartment as a result.

Bob Harris, President of the Northwest Village Network (NVN), said that NVN members were shocked to hear that Ralston My Way was closing.  Many have used My Way’s services and, he said.

“They are wondering where they will be able to turn to for help,” he said.

Some NVN members wondered if the network could replace some of the services, but, he said, “We recognize that My Way had all the pieces in place, and for us to take that on would be a huge undertaking.”

The Ralston Center Board will decide how they can continue to meet the needs of older adults residing in the community.

 “The board is very proud of what it has done with My Way,” she said, “and will undertake a strategic planning process so that we can figure out what we will do in addition to the wellness services.”

While Killen regrets having to end the program, she is grateful for the community support they have received. 

“It’s been a wonderful partnership with the community,” she said. “We had great relationships with politicians, the library, and churches in the area. It’s a great community where people really care about each other.”

Ralston Center’s history dates back to 1817, when it was established as the Indigent Widows and Single Women’s Society.  For the 2019 calendar year, the Ralston Center reported total expenses of $1,864,150 with total revenue of  $1,798,305.  Total Ralston Center assets during 2019 were $15,080,397.

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