If you've driven around Lycoming or Clinton counties in the past few months, you've probably spotted a few billboards with the word "Link" printed in big letters across the top.
Or perhaps you've come across a full-page advertisement for "Link" in the Sun-Gazette recently.
In case you're wondering, the Link to Aging and Disability Resources program - called "Link" for short - is all about giving the right information to the right people.
Jessica Xenidis, who is the Link coordinator for Lycoming and Clinton counties, said Link is "basically an information and assistance program."
It is a collaborative effort among community agencies and the Office of Long-Term Living to provide information about services to people over the age of 60 and persons 18 to 59 with disabilities in Lycoming and Clinton counties.
The Link network was established to address the confusion people often feel about where to turn for information on available resources for seniors and the disabled.
"A lot of times people don't know where to turn for services," Xenidis said. "So, they may call the Aging Office, but the Aging Office doesn't serve people under 60, so they might not know where to direct them."
"With Link, we're trying to blur the lines between over-60 and under-60. There are so many needs that are similar," Xenidis said. "The way things are now, the over-60 Office of Aging may not know what's available for people under 60. We're trying to make it so that agencies for those over 60 are aware of services available for people under 60, and that the agencies for those under 60 are aware of services available for people over 60. That way we're all working together."
The Link network is made up of five core partner organizations, all of whom have similar aims. These include the STEP Office of Aging, Community Resources for Independence, Allied Services, Roads to Freedom Center for Independent Living and United Disabilities Services.
"The Link network brings all of these partners together so that we have one huge database of information," Xenidis said. "We want to make sure there is no wrong door. If a person calls any one of our agencies, they're not going to turn that person away or say 'sorry, we can't help you.' We will actually follow through and try to get that information for them. We want to make sure that everyone has a place to turn for information."
Xenidis said that Link is also comprised of "collaboratives," which are community partners who can assist with information about services in the local area.
Dave Drezner is the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) regional coordinator for Northeastern Pennsylvania. ADRC is a federal initiative to provide easier access to information and services for older Americans and adults with physical disabilities.
The Link program falls under the ADRC grant initiative. According to Drezner, the services for those who are older than 60 and those younger than 60 with disabilities are very similar.
"Somebody who is 85 and has trouble getting up the stairs doesn't say they're disabled, but they still have trouble getting up the stairs. Somebody who is 45 and uses a wheelchair for mobility may not be able to get up the stairs either. The services required for each of these people are, in fact, very similar," Drezner said.
"The funding streams and information services for the two, however, have always been different," Drezner said. "As a private citizen, if you're looking for information, it's historically been very confusing and hard to figure out. So ADRCs are an attempt to rectify that problem," Drezner said. "We call it the 'no wrong door' approach. The idea of 'no wrong door' means it doesn't matter what agency I call, by virtue of their being part of this collaborative network, I'm going to get connected to the right place."
It is important to note that Link is not a separate entity or organization. It is, as Drezner put it, "a coalition of preexisting organizations."
The five core partners of the Link network all work toward similar ends.
United Disabilities Services, Allied Services and Community Resources for Independence are all similar in that they primarily serve people 18-59 with disabilities. The three provide service coordination, arrange for caregivers and assistive equipment. Roads to Freedom provides in-home care, assistive devices and skills training. The STEP Office of Aging is for people 60 and older. STEP handles everything from in-home care to arranging medical appointments, housekeeping, home modifications and meals-on-wheels. STEP also runs all of the senior centers in the area.
"Between the five agencies in the Link network, we have a lot of services available to consumers," Xenidis said. "We have a big knowledge base between the five of us."
Xenidis said many people have already called the five core partners to ask about Link.
"People know it's out there, which is really our first goal," she said. "We've done a lot of advertising and have gotten a lot of calls about Link. I've heard people say that it's a great service."
When asked where he hoped the Link program would be in three to five years, Drezner said he hoped Link would influence the way information is distributed to the public.
"My hope is that it becomes the way people do business," Drezner said. "Hopefully, down the road, being a member agency of the Link network will be seen as a stamp of integrity. I want the Link network to become a philosophy about how we take care of the most needy people among us. I think that three to five years from now, we'll look back and see this as the beginning of a paradigm shift in how information and services are delivered to the general public - a paradigm shift in a positive direction.
"Ultimately, the goal is to make it really, really easy for the general public to find the information they're looking for. The information's out there, it's just a matter of connecting people to the right information, or at least sending them in the right direction," Drezner said.
"We want to make everything uniform, convenient and all-inclusive," Xenidis said. "That's the Link philosophy."
Any agencies interested in becoming a collaborative partner of Link should contact Xenidis by calling 524-4314 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.