By Laura Rigge
On May 5, a group of dedicated community members met with state legislators to advocate for seniors and students at the state capitol building in Harrisburg. The trip was coordinated by the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley.
First, delegates met with Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh) and Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh), who described the current state of the budget. Both offered their support for educational improvement tax credits that benefit the Jewish Day School and the JCC.
Schlossberg also spoke about the new push for funding for naturally occurring retirement communities, often abbreviated as NORCs. As more Pennsylvanians choose to age in place, their needs are changing faster than government programs can meet them. Because of these changes, legislators in Harrisburg are looking to reform the current model of senior support that largely funds facilities like nursing homes and assisted living communities in favor of broadening the services funded to better serve seniors who are aging in place. NORC funding was also a major topic of discussion with Dwayne Heckert, the assistant director of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, and Lauren Rooney, a research analyst for Rep. Steve Samuelson (D-Northampton), the chairman of the Aging and Older Adult Services Committee.
Carah Tenzer, senior services planning consultant for the Federation, pointed to The GO Program, the free transportation service for seniors provided by the Federation and Jewish Family Service, as an example of nonprofits stepping in to serve the needs of seniors who are aging in place in the Lehigh Valley. Federation Executive Director Mark L. Goldstein recommended that state agencies should make a greater effort to partner with local nonprofits, many of whom have stepped in to fill a need as JFS has.
Former Federation president Barry Halper called the day “inspiring,” noting that the group had not only made known the needs of the community, but also had given practical ideas for how to affect positive change in the Lehigh Valley and across the state.
Aaron Gorodzinsky, director of outreach and community relations for the Federation who coordinated the trip, also considered the mission a success. “Having the opportunity to meet with our legislators, share our concerns, priorities and ideas with them and hearing from them in regard to the upcoming priorities and issues made this experience very unique,” Gorodzinsky said. “I think everyone came out of the mission with a better understanding of what is going on in Harrisburg today and what we need to do to ensure that our voice will continue to be heard.”