The Sarah Ralston Foundation is fortunate to have Lynette Killen at the helm. She embodies the skills, experience, knowledge and drive to lead The Foundation and make it a force throughout the community of nonprofits that support and enhance the lives of our elders. We hope these questions and her answers help you get to know her better.

What attracted you to this field?

Working in the field of aging was an easy decision and choice for me. My extended family during my formative years exhibited respect for elder family members, and by extension, the entire community. I always felt and still feel very comfortable among elders. By default, my first job as a social worker, plopped me in the middle of a population that was mostly aged. I draw inward the wisdom of  elders.

You have several master’s degrees. Please describe the fields of study.

I have a Masters In Social Work, with a specialty in aging. The content was both at the macro level (understanding of the aging population) and the micro level (practice in non-profit organizations). I began my second Masters when I was working as a hospital social worker. National politics moved me to gain skills that were more administrative – hoping to have macro impact.  I received a Masters in Business Administration, with a specialty in healthcare. My third Masters was in Aging Services – a cohort model that called on both individual work and group work – more than I had previously experienced. The diversity of the student ages, work experience, and technology as a teaching method were exciting ways to pursue  education as a seasoned CEO.

Describe an experience that had a profound influence on how you think about advocating for our elders.

The experience that influenced my thinking about advocating for our elders was the planning and organization of a state capital trip for elders advocating for themselves. This model is more powerful than providers advocating for their clients. Elders shared not only stories about their individual experiences, but also about the unintended consequences of policy and regulations.

Describe a project or program that you initiated that made a difference in the lives of others. 

As an administrator of the Division of Geriatric Medicine at a teaching hospital, I started a home visit and a feeding program. The home visit program, which is still in operation after three decades, includes a nurse practitioner as the lead team member,  a geriatrician , and geriatric fellows. A social worker is also available for consultation. Receiving primary care in one’s home can prevent unnecessary ER visits and hospitalizations, allows access to care for the homebound and those without transportation, educates patients about good practices and prevention, and provides human connection.

The feeding program was designed to assist hospitalized elders with their meals. Volunteers were trained to assist patients at bedside/in their rooms. Paid staff were challenged to find the time to set up a patient’s meal, for example, to remove lids from containers, and poor drinks) and to feed patients that could not feed themselves.

Why is the work of The Sarah Ralston Foundation important? 

The SRF pursues partnerships with not-for-profits that serve vulnerable and underserved elders of Philadelphia County. It is the first Foundation to solely fund organizations serving this population. Philadelphia is not just an “old” city, but a poor one. Many issues that impact the target population appear intractable, but support for ongoing operations and innovative programs can have a positive impact.

If you could advise someone considering working with underserved elders, what would you say? 

Go For It! The work is very rewarding and the appreciation from underserved elders is heartwarming. The more residents are supported, the more the entire community/neighborhood benefits. Therefore, your impact goes beyond the individual.