A Tribute to Jeanne Bovard

Jeanne Bovard, front left, received NWNEPA’s Governor Robert P. Casey Medal for a Lifetime of Service in 2008. Clockwise from back left: Jesse Ergott, NWNEPA President & CEO; John W. Cosgrove, Event Co-Chair; Monsignor Joseph Quinn, Event Co-Chair.

“You see things and you say ‘Why?’

But I dream things that never were, and I say ‘Why not?’”

— George Bernard Shaw

So many wonderfully well-deserved tributes have been expressed since our community first heard of the sad loss of Jeanne Bovard, long-time leader of the Scranton Area Community Foundation.  So many voices articulating that which we all knew of Jeanne’s remarkable contributions toward the betterment of life in our corner of the world.  She was “a true community leader,” “passionate” and “committed to our future.” She was “one of a kind.”  Richly accurate and well-earned accolades all.

But as a very special friend to NeighborWorks NEPA, I can state with certainty that the truest gift Jeanne Bovard ever bestowed on our community was so generously sharing her exceptional faith in the goodness of people and how that shaped her extraordinary vision for making life better in our community.

Very simply stated, she saw things that most of us couldn’t and she brought us all along while she put it all into action.

Just think about the sheer volume of community firsts that have Jeanne’s fingerprints all over them.  A joint service program between Marywood and the University of Scranton?  Jeanne started the Collegiate Volunteer program. The city, county and school board find it hard to work together? Jeanne set the table for Scranton Tomorrow. Over 21 non-profit organizations are diluting the power of effective investment in regional housing? Jeanne crafts the Housing Services Collaborative which continues to reap millions in resources some 20+ years later. Not to mention being on the ground floor for other efforts like Leadership Lackawanna, the Voluntary Action Center and Community Foundations of Pennsylvania.

It is not at all an exaggeration to state that NeighborWorks NEPA would not be here today were it not for the exceptional vision of Jeanne Bovard.  Well over 20 years ago, I had moved home to Scranton and just taken the reigns of the organization. To say that it was challenged would be a significant understatement.  In fact, it was actually certain that we would have to shut our doors if our new homeownership strategy didn’t take root in the city.  The only asset we had left on our books was an inactive grant from SAF.  Having never met her before, I was very pleased that Jeanne agreed to meet with me and to learn about the plan our board had crafted.  Following some substantive and often robust questioning, she activated the grant.  I recall her saying something like, “sounds like a good plan, why not?”

When she received The Governor Robert P. Casey Medal for a Lifetime of Service, the citation read, “Jeanne Bovard is an energetic and enthusiastic champion for our community.  She believes in the people of northeastern PA. She appeals to “the better angels of our nature” and she is a wise investor in hope.”

Jeanne Bovard showed us, time and time again, that hope is an invaluable commodity in which to invest.  She will be sorely missed. Yet her belief in the goodness of our community touched so many hearts, that her legacy will live on for generations to come.

By John W. Cosgrove

John was Executive Director of Scranton Neighborhood Housing Services (now NeighborWorks NEPA) from 1995 through 1999 and on the Board of Directors from 2001 through 2016. He is currently the Executive Director of AllOne Foundation & Charities.

Wells Fargo Brightens Up Neighborhood

First row (left to right): Oiram Santos, Wells Fargo District Manager; Jesse Ergott, NWNEPA CEO; Marianna Yafar, Gretchen Swartwood, Jannette Moran, Blayre Harvey, Jodi Cegelka. Second row: Cristopher Pachay, Joe Montagna, Clayton Casino, Bill Latshaw and Michael Poremba

Over a dozen employees from Wells Fargo Bank branches throughout northeastern Pennsylvania recently assisted NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania with the renovation of a property located at 316 Summit Avenue in Clarks Summit Borough. They were participating in Wells Fargo’s Team Member Volunteer Program, which offers employees of the bank an opportunity to give back to their community through various volunteer activities and neighborhood improvement projects.

“Our team members look forward to these NeighborWorks renovation projects, in fact, they are some of the most popular volunteer days we have,” said Oiram Santos, Wells Fargo Scranton-Pike District Manager. “To be able to transform a house into a home means a lot to our volunteers, and NeighborWorks is a fantastic partner whose expertise makes this happen.”

Volunteers spent the day clearing the property of brush, landscaping, and preparing the site for lawn seeding to take place in the coming weeks. In addition to the significant amount of volunteer labor, a check for $15,000 from the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation was presented for use towards improvements to the property.

The property was originally donated to NWNEPA through the Wells Fargo Community & Urban Stabilization Program (CUSP), which offers the bank’s real-estate owned properties to non-profit partners for redevelopment purposes. “This project has been a true partnership” said Jesse Ergott, NWNEPA President & CEO. “The property has been a longstanding eyesore to an otherwise beautiful neighborhood, so the opportunity to work with Wells Fargo to bring it back to life is extremely rewarding.”

NWNEPA anticipates finishing the renovations over the next few months and will put the home on the market in early fall.

Occupational Therapists Bridge the Gap between Health and Home for Older Adults

The demographics of the United States (and many other nations in the world) are shifting rapidly. The Baby Boomer Generation — those born between 1945 and 1964 — are entering a new stage in their lives. In the coming years, this generation — which is larger than the generations that came before and after it — will have needs that are relevant to organizations focused on older adults.

Many programs are springing up around the idea of “aging in place,” or a person’s ability to live safely in their home for as long as possible. According to an AARP study, 90% of older adults wish to age in place. For many, this is their best option. In-home health care is more affordable than a nursing home or assisted living center, and many older adults have already paid off their mortgages and benefit from utility and tax assistance programs. The reasons go beyond simply finances, though. There is a level of comfort in remaining in one’s home, as well as a sense of community within their neighborhood.

Modifying the Home Environment for Safety

When working to ensure that a senior can safely age in place, it is essential to understand that their health is directly related to their home environment — falling and other accidents in the home can severely reduce a person’s ability to live in and navigate their home. According to the CDC, more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually sideways, and falling is the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries. In fact, one out of every five falls results in a serious injury, such as a broken bone or a head injury.

Occupational Therapists as Experts in Home Safety

Many people make the decision to modify their homes only after a fall or accident has happened, either from necessity or out of fear of the incident recurring. An occupational therapist would argue that it is vital that the environment changes before the person even needs the adaptation. This gives them time to get used to the change and understand better and safer ways of navigating their home as a preventive measure.

An occupational therapist (OT) is a medical professional who works with individuals to help determine ways they can adapt to various barriers that keep them from doing the things they want to do. OTs rarely ask a person to stop doing something they love or to start doing something else. Instead, they assess a person’s lifestyle (or lifestyle goals) and help them to live their best life in the safest way possible. Their goal is to help a patient do things safely in the present so that it does not affect them negatively in the future. An OT, for example, might recommend a ramp from the porch to the sidewalk to ease the process of leaving the house, rather than simply telling a patient it would be easier not to leave.

Partnering with Occupational Therapists

NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania is fortunate to have the University of Scranton nearby, which has an accredited occupational therapy department. We have partnered with students and faculty there to help us assess the most effective ways to make homes safer for older adults. The students are quite knowledgeable, some of them being master’s level students, and their professor is an excellent guide and facilitator. Having these students conduct the assessments gives them real world experience in their field and helps them meet their required hours of community service. Our homeowners also enjoy having the students in their homes, often asking them about their studies or their hobbies.

The students ask the homeowner questions about their accessibility needs, health concerns, use of assistive devices, and other questions that may help them get an idea of the person’s mobility and in what ways they have trouble in their day-to-day lives. The OTs will also ask some questions about the homeowner’s personal life and their experience in their home, such as how long they’ve lived there and how comfortable their home is. The longer a person has lived in their home, the more likely they are to be used to it the way it is and be content with it staying the same. Assessing how comfortable a person is helps the OTs gauge their willingness to change and explore ways the home can be modified to better suit their needs.

Needs of Older Adults

When working with older adults, it is important to avoid using blanket rubrics when determining the best ways to assist them, since each situation is unique. What benefits one person may not benefit another, which is why working with occupational therapists has helped us truly uncover the best ways to help people while maintaining their dignity, personality, and independence. We are also finding it increasingly important to never tell a person what they need — either they can tell you, or you can work together to discover what home improvements and modification will best suit their individual lifestyles.

How Occupational Therapists Can Assess Safety

It’s not hard for most people to see that a normal bathroom can pose problems for an older adult. However, it may be hard for them to identify ways to help. Occupational therapists work with trained eyes. They know what hazards to look out for. For NeighborWorks, they not only assess large needs like bathroom modifications, but smaller changes as well. For example, occupational therapists often recommend increased lighting in homes, which NeighborWorks can remedy by adding LED motion lights, swapping dim light bulbs for brighter ones, and adding night lights throughout the home. Occupational therapists also often recommend that homeowners get rid of their loose throw rugs or tape them down so that they aren’t a trip hazard.

Demand for these relatively minor safety improvements led to the creation of NeighborWorks’ safety kits. Eligible homeowners can receive up to $300 worth of safety items for their home, installed free of charge by volunteers. In addition to the items just mentioned, each safety kit also includes smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, a fire extinguisher, radon gas test kit, non-slip treads for stairs and ramps, and non-skid bath mats, to name a few.

Other Aging in Place Needs

Although NeighborWorks is currently focused on safety kits, bathroom modifications, and critical home repairs, our long-term plan for addressing the needs of older adults also includes small home repairs and financial education classes for seniors. We often come across homes that have small problems, like a leaky faucet or loose hand rail. These homeowners often cannot find someone reliable to help them do the work, or they can’t find someone interested in doing these small jobs when there are much bigger jobs available. NeighborWorks hopes to fill this gap by contracting our own handy man or woman to be a reliable and dependable helper to older adults.

Financial education is vital to people of all ages and income levels, and older adults are no exception. By creating an education class designed specifically for seniors, we can discuss financial topics that are relevant to them, such as Medicaid and Medicare benefits, tax relief programs, and reverse mortgages. This can also be an opportunity to talk about retirement and living on a fixed income.

Although we know there is much work to be done, we’re looking forward to helping seniors throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania live safely and independently in their own homes for as long as possible.