For the last 17 years, when seniors or their family members contacted AgeWell Pittsburgh for assistance, the first person they typically spoke to was Maxine Horn. As the AgeWell Pittsburgh Information and Referral Specialist, it was Maxine’s job to talk to callers about their problems or concerns, let them know about resources available in the community, and refer them to appropriate programs.
“She would talk to people as if she was a caring family member,” said Stefanie Small, JFCS Director of Clinical Services. “Knowing that older adults rarely have just one problem, she would tease out through conversation what else was on their minds. She would allow them, through her friendly demeanor and open ear, to be honest about their needs.”
AgeWell Thrives with Maxine
Seniors and their families often contact AgeWell Pittsburgh during a time of transition, such as when an older adult is experiencing physical or memory challenges, when support is needed to maintain independent living, or when the older adult may need to consider moving to a supportive facility. With her deep knowledge, direct manner, and quick wit, Maxine was a perfect fit for the position, and over the years provided families with a warm welcome into AgeWell Pittsburgh.
“As part of the process, Maxine would call back a couple weeks later to check in. These calls would be like an old friend contacting you to see how you were doing,” said Small. “Not as a matter of business, but as a matter of caring.”
This connection helped many callers to receive the resources they needed, and reduced feelings of anxiety during a stressful time. Callers felt understood, and this enabled them to speak freely about topics that could be very difficult.
“It takes a lot to ruffle Maxine,” said Jordan Golin, President and CEO of JFCS. “Her job often involved listening to challenging dilemmas and speaking with challenging people, but rarely did these throw her off. She solved all sorts of problems while strengthening her relationship with the callers, and she did this with a sense of grace and humor.”
Maxine retired this summer, leaving her coworkers and callers with fond memories of her years of service.
Why JFCS Chose to Hire Maxine
Golin hired Horn in 2003 for a program then known as ElderLink, an information and referral service run jointly by JFCS and the Jewish Association on Aging (JAA). Shortly thereafter, ElderLink became part of the newly formed AgeWell Pittsburgh, a collaboration between JFCS, the JAA, and the Jewish Community Center. The program now serves more than 10,000 clients and caregivers annually.
Initially, Maxine wasn’t an obvious choice for the ElderLink position, because she did not have a social work background. However, Lisa Steindel, who was then the director of the JFCS Career Development Center, encouraged her to apply because of her past experience working for Contact Pittsburgh, an organization that provided a hotline for mental health emergencies as well as information and referral.
“After meeting Maxine, I realized that her personality, way of dealing with people, and approach to problem-solving were more important for this position than her educational credentials or professional experience,” said Golin.
AgeWell at the Beginning
While AgeWell Pittsburgh has grown to be a nationally recognized collaborative program, in its early days, the three organizations and their staffs had to establish trust with each other. Maxine’s role became an important link in the process, because she prioritized connecting callers to the resources that best met their needs, regardless of the organization providing the services. She recalls working with staff members of all three partner organizations, and forming personal relationships.
“I got along with everybody,” she said. “I made it my business to visit their office and see what they did.”
As AgeWell Pittsburgh worked to build relationships among the three organizations, staff participated in joint trainings and retreats, which led to some funny moments.
“At the very beginning, we were having these trust exercises,” said Maxine. “Everybody was driven out to this horse barn. To this day I can’t tell you what it was all about. We were guided on horseback.”
“It was covered by the news,” she continued. “Jordan came over and said, ‘There’s news reporters here. How about you talk to them about your experience?’ I thought ‘I have no idea what I experienced here, and I forgot my earrings today, I can’t talk to them!’ Everybody remembered I freaked out about not wearing my earrings.” She did the news interview anyway.
Over the years, coworkers have enjoyed Maxine’s sense of humor, her concern for others, and her willingness to participate in activities not directly related to her job, such as joining staff committees, participating in a book club at work, and helping to plan the annual staff Chanukah party.
“Maxine’s willingness to be a part of everything is a strength. Chanukah party planning? Check! Other committees? Check!” said Small. “If she met a person in the hall she didn’t know, she’d ask which department they were in so she could get to know them. If asked to help other programs in the department, she would do what she could to ease others’ case loads.”
Maxine Works to Help Local Seniors
Above all, Maxine channeled her passion for helping seniors into her work. She was inspired to work with older people by her mother.
“As she aged, she would say to me, ‘Maxine, when people are nice to an older person, you can’t imagine how appreciated that is.’”
After her mother died at age 89, Maxine wanted to honor her memory. To do so, she joined a volunteer committee of National Council of Jewish Women that was devoted to providing services to older adults. This work made her more aware of seniors’ needs.
“When she started at JFCS, she was not yet an expert in all things aging but she put her mind to it and became the go-to person for everyone on the topic,” said Small.
For Maxine, working with AgeWell Pittsburgh for so many years has fostered appreciation for the good fortune in her own life.
“I had a loving family and upbringing; everything has come together in my life,” she said. “Not that there haven’t been hard times, but my cup is so full. I would talk to people through those 17 years that had such unhappy stories to tell — broken families, and the end result was a senior that was maybe not abandoned but not held in esteem, not cared for like I cared for my mother.”
But, whatever dysfunction a family may have faced, Maxine let them know that help was available.
“I just always try to find a positive to help the person,” she continued. “When I talk to their children, brothers, or sisters, I try to focus on the possible.”
Maxine has no specific plans for retirement.
“I am happy that I did what I did for as long as I did,” she said. “I enjoyed being on the giving end. I’ll see what else is out there.”
AgeWell Pittsburgh Information and Referral Services are now provided by JFCS staff member Ellen Leger. For more information, call 412-422-0400.
-Written by Susan Jablow, Grant Writer, JFCS