For many of us, there is no better way to start the work week than by getting some good news.

Late last month, our friends and partners at NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania announced they were awarded $1 million in funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the expansion of the Aging in Place services.

This might not sound like all that big a deal to some of you, but when you consider this was a national competitive grant process with over 200 applicants and only 30 awardees, the reality sets in. This is another win for our community, a victory for seniors and an investment in their future.

Working with the knowledge that 90% of older adults want to age safely in their home, NeighborWorks and the Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging began partnering on building a model for our Aging in Place programming.

NeighborWorks took the lead in securing capacity building funding through the efforts of their president and CEO Jesse Ergott. The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation enthusiastically supported the partnership’s efforts. After Jesse hired Mary Endrusick in 2018 as the agency’s Aging in Place coordinator, the program flourished, reaching more than 400 older adults in Lackawanna County. Mary’s tireless efforts and leadership made this award is a reality for us all.

The Aging in Place Program is just what it sounds like. It is through this effort we can serve the needs of older adults to help them remain safely in their homes for as long as possible, if not forever. The biggest part of the program is critical safety modifications. The model is person-centered, considering the unique needs every participant. Occupational therapist recommendations are made for home modifications to provide a safer environment for the participants. Bathroom modifications, grab bar, railing and ramp installations are a few of the projects it will tackle. The program also provides a handyman service through local contractors, Johnson College, businesses, schools, universities and volunteers to complete light repair work, painting, weatherization services, porch and step repair and the installation of home and safety kits.

The program doesn’t stop there. In partnership with the Lackawanna County Tax Claim Bureau and Area Agency on Aging, the program supports the Elderly Property Tax Extension Program. NeighborWorks provides the critical financial counseling to individuals seeking to access this program to make sure all other avenues are explored before entering the program. They lead the community in the work being done with foreclosure prevention/loss mitigation counseling, budgeting and financial coaching.

As an agency working to ensure all the needs of a person are met, NeighborWorks identifies and provides services to isolated seniors through their Friendly Visitor, Care Call and Navigator programs.

The partnership with NeighborWorks of NEPA has yielded more $3.6 million worth of investment and community impact. In our area, 66% of the housing stock is owner-occupied. Seniors comprise 56% of this figure. The average age of the person in the program is 76; 45% of those people make up single households earning less than $24,750 a year and couples making less than $28,250 per year. It is very clear why we need to continue to expand and advocate for this programming in our community.

After last month’s press conference about the HUD funding, the Aging and NeighborWorks offices received a huge influx of calls. Every call is important to us; we want to help everyone. The reality is the funding has just been awarded and there is a 150-person waiting list.

Please be patient and understanding but rest assured that we are working hard to get to your project as quickly as we can. If you have any questions or want to learn more about the program, please call the Area Agency on Aging or NeighborWorks. Everyone’s situation is unique and income, assets and other qualifiers all factor into each project. This innovative program will change the lives of many residents. We hope it can help you stay in your home for many years to come.

Jason Kavulich is the director of Lackawanna County’s Area Agency on Aging. For more information on services available call 570-963-6740. NeighborWorks NEPA can be reached at 570-558-2490.