'Everyday there is an inspiring story'
Seeing lives change everyday is what has made Leslie Grenfell's career rewarding.
And the 58-year-old Monongahela resident and long-time executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging has expanded her role in helping to ensure that residents across the state have a growing network of social services.
Since 2001, Grenfell has been the head of the local Area Agency on Aging, which is one of 52 in Pennsylvania.
In July, the Washington, Pa., native became president of the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging board of directors, after her peers nominated her for the post.
Grenfell, who has been on the state board for the last eight years, said being chosen was a humbling experience.
"It was an honor. I did not know it was happening," she recently said from her Charleroi office. "There were some people that strongly encouraged me to accept. Seeing that there was an opportunity to further have an impact on a statewide basis with the delivery of services in Pennsylvania, I graciously agreed.
"Because there is work to be done here, I did not seek it, but it has really provided an opportunity for additional growth."
An affiliate of Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services Inc., the Charleroi-based Area Agency on Aging provides services to older residents in Washington, Fayette and Greene counties.
Aside from providing several home- and community-based services, the organization specializes in offering legal help.
"We have attorneys and paralegal on staff that assist people with non-fee generating cases, so that we don't compete with the local attorneys in our community," Grenfell said. "We specialize and concentrate on wills, powers of attorney, advanced directives, and providing legal services to our protective services unit, the unit that investigates abuse."
After graduating from Trinity High School in 1971, Grenfell earned a bachelor of science degree in rehabilitation counseling at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
She also has a master's degree in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh.
It was during her college years that Grenfell began to fully realize the impact she could have on those in need of services.
"It was more through some of the internships that I had at college; working with people in the community," she said. "I worked with the Easter Seals Society in Allegheny County. It was a practicum ... working with individuals who were developmentally disabled and helping them transition into vocational rehab ... helping them to secure jobs."
The daughter of Carol Terputac, a retired nurse, and Thomas Terputac, a former Washington County Court of Common Pleas judge, Grenfell became a caseworker in 1976 for the Charleroi-based Mon Valley United Health Services Inc.
In that capacity, she performed assessments for older adults to determine needs and develop individualized care plans.
"There was always an interest in seeing that individuals were able to receive high-quality services," she said. "I had a deep-seeded passion to ensure that people received services that they needed, in a compassionate way."
Grenfell moved up to in-home services supervisor for the Mid-Mon Valley in 1979 and held the post until 1986, when she became operations director of the local Area Agency on Aging.
As executive director of the organization, Grenfell has seen a push to promote more active and interactive lifestyles among a progressively aging population.
"The emphasis is really on helping older people live well through helping them with maybe some of their chronic diseases, with exercise and fitness," she said. "Senior centers are reinventing themselves and focusing on health and fitness activities.
"People are living healthier and hopefully there will be a delay in chronic conditions. Hopefully, if we can keep people in the community healthier longer, we will delay the need for long-term care.
"Our challenge is to be able to continue to provide innovative services through additional partnerships with the community, with hospitals, with local government and with other agencies in the community, because financially, it's challenging. We've been flat-funded for a number of years."
Grenfell said Mid-Mon Valley residents and elected officials have been integral in the success of the local Area Agency on Aging.
"Our corporate office is located in Charleroi and the elected officials and community organizations have been extremely supportive of us being here and have welcomed our staff into the community," she said.
In the three-county area, local Area Agency on Aging volunteers have logged 230,336 hours last year.
"That's the backbone of the aging network, the strength of the volunteer system that we provide," Grenfell said. "It's very strong volunteer support. In some situations, they give of their finances to help."
Grenfell has served on the boards of several local and state organizations.
She has come to miss the day-to-day interaction with clients that has lessened since she became an Area Agency on Aging director.
"I do miss that, but I can see more of an opportunity to have an impact on a larger scale by helping to ensure that the services and programs we provide are high quality," she said. "It has been a wonderful career opportunity for me within the organizations. I feel blessed. I really do.
"The bottom line for me is every day is just another opportunity for our agency and our staff to assist someone that has a need in the community."
As the director of Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging, Grenfell said she instituted a telephone hotline to help clients find the services they need.
Going forward, Grenfell said she sees much more progress to be made and is grateful for the smiles she has seen on those helped by the organization she leads.
"We're protecting people from abuse and financial exploitation. We're providing a home-delivered meal. We're helping people stay in their home and community," she said. "Everyday, there is an inspiring story that makes every day worthwhile."