Lynette Killen is the executive director of The Sarah Ralston Foundation, and she previously served as the executive director of Ralston Center. With a long and distinguished career working to support older adults, Killen shared some of her thoughts about why Ralston became a foundation and what she hopes to accomplish in this new chapter of the organization’s history.
Why did Ralston Center become The Sarah Ralston Foundation?
Ralston Center, after thorough discussion, research, self-evaluation, and planning concluded that it could better serve older adults in Philadelphia by supporting non-profit organizations. Partnering with organizations serving older adults will have a much larger impact than the direct services Ralston Center provided in selected Philadelphia neighborhoods over the last three plus decades.
How has that changed the organization’s mission, and why will this be better for older people in Philadelphia?
In some ways the mission has not changed because at the core there is the ongoing desire to improve the quality of life of vulnerable and underserved older adults. The new mission expands our reach to all of Philadelphia County. It also encourages conversations with large and small organizations serving older adults.
What are some of the biggest concerns seniors in our city are facing right now?
Social isolation, food insecurity, unequal access to health care, and transportation. Unfortunately, in the many decades I have worked in the field of aging in Philadelphia and its environs, these concerns have not changed. However, with the aging of neighborhoods, the dearth of affordable housing, the impact of COVID, the increasing complexity and cost of healthcare, and racism, the problems are even greater.
How will The Sarah Ralston Foundation approach grantmaking and selecting grantees?
As a Foundation, we are establishing a process that will be easy – even for novice grantees. We will do this through our software and through our one-on-one support. Our intent is to offer a level playing field, not one that favors larger organizations or organizations with skilled grant writers.
We want to partner with our grantees through an understanding of the community they serve and through observations of synergies of applicants that may become stronger by working/applying together.
We have established a selection process that produces objectivity in our awards. By offering two cycles a year – one for operations and one for innovation – we support non-profits doing good work daily as well as non-profits that will pilot/expand innovative service ideas for older adults.
Through grassroots networking, conversations, and meetings, we hope that grantees will apply for a grant and that we will identify organizations that should apply, but do not understand the strength of their ideas.
How have your day to day duties changed?
My duties will include overall management of a foundation, not a service organization. Activities will shift to building a strong reputation for The Sarah Ralston Foundation (Ralston Center enjoys a positive reputation) and to meeting and working with community organizations and “cheerleaders” for improving the quality of life for older adults. My work will evolve as potential partners begin to trust The Sarah Ralston Foundation and see us as a true friend of their agencies and older adult Philadelphians.
What would you ideally love to see transformed for seniors in Philadelphia in five years? Ten years?
In five years, I hope to see a decrease in food insecurity and an increase in affordable housing. However, I am not naïve in thinking these problems will be solved. Philadelphia is a very poor city and constant attention is required to help residents. I would also like to see Philadelphia health institutions and medical schools include education about diversity, inclusion, equity and access. Measuring the impact of the education is the only way to determine if the results are tangible. I hope to see the trend that began in COVID to recognize older adults as being “technical” if they have wi-fi, hardware, and coaching to continue.
In 10 years, I hope to see more success in the concerns noted above as well as better transportation, accessible outside spaces, insurance-supported preventative health care and case management. I’d like to see a decrease in chronic illness. I hope that Philadelphia is recognized as a livable community for older adults. Behaviors and communication among Philadelphia residents should demonstrate respect for and between people of all generations.