In 2018, Lehigh and Northampton counties became the first dual-counties to join the World Health Organization/AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. Carmen Bell, Director of Healthy Aging at United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley (UWGLV), is spearheading the age-friendly initiative on behalf of UWGLV.
“What Carmen is doing is pushing forward systemic change—a challenging task,” says Erin Connelly, UWGLV Senior Director of Impact. “Whether it’s funding agencies, convening people, or simply encouraging individuals to reach out to their neighbors, Carmen is persistent and resilient in pushing this cause forward. It’s the type of work we need to move the needle in the right direction for our community.”
Much of the Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley work is based on direct input from older adults. The team has conducted “listening tours,” surveyed community members, organized and attended events, and collaborated with other organizations to better understand the needs of older adults.
“Almost 16% of the population in Lehigh and Northampton counties is 65 or older, and that number is increasing,” Carmen says. “We saw a need to reach out to this population and make sure they have the resources they need to live healthy and happy lives.”
“Based on what we heard, we decided to fund programs specifically around transportation, case management in the home, chronic disease care, meal services, and grocery shopping services. These were things that older adults said would help them safely age in place, manage their health, and go about their daily tasks with ease.” Over the past few years, the organization has distributed millions of dollars in funding for healthy aging programs and initiatives.
In 2020, AgeFriendly Lehigh Valley adjusted its approach to addressing relevant issues around racial justice, inequity, and, of course, COVID-19. They refocused to meet urgent needs and shifted their perspective to make sure they were inclusive and mindful of all people in their communities.
“With so much change in the social and political landscape, we knew we needed to take a step back and reassess,” says Carmen. “By doing so, we made sure we remained both respectful and relevant.” With this in mind, Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley has developed a set of core initiatives designed to meet the needs of the whole individual and the whole community. These initiatives are:
Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley continues to work on its cornerstone initiatives while taking into account the challenges posed by COVID19. Additionally, Carmen reports that she has had the opportunity to connect with other United Way organizations and community partners to continually improve her program and inspire others to undertake age-friendly initiatives.
This feature story is an extension of UWRA’s Aging in Place research conducted in 2019, funded by a grant from the Cinda A. Hallman Memorial Fund, which addresses two of the recommendations made by UWRA:
1) Amplify United Way’s commitments to older adults, and
2) Drive knowledge sharing across the United Way network.
UWRA is excited to spotlight United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley’s work in making their community more accessible and inviting to people of all ages through their Age-Friendly Lehigh Valley initiative.
For more information visit: unitedwayglv.org/agefriendlylehighvalley