Council On Older Persons has a successful 2023, marks transition in 2024

It is said that the only constant thing in life is change. For the Council On Older Persons (COOP), the new year brings several changes to the organization. Before we look to 2024, it is important to reflect on a very successful 2023.

COOP is the last remaining advisory group from the predecessors of The Center for Community Solutions, the Welfare Federation, and the Federation for Community Planning. It has been in existence for over 75 years and continues to be a leading voice for older adults in Greater Cleveland. Comprised of 50 representatives from the public, nonprofit, and public sectors, COOP has positioned itself as a coalition that works to ensure that older adults remain a top priority in legislative and community discussions.

The Council On Older Persons has positioned itself as a coalition that works to ensure that older adults remain a top priority in legislative and community discussions.

Under the leadership of COOP Chairman Bert Rahl and Vice Chair Marsha Blanks, COOP serves as a convener and advocate, playing a role in ensuring that public policy decisions are made with the welfare of older adults in mind. In 2023, COOP welcomed several community leaders to its General Body meetings including:

  • Kathie Fleck, Chief of Staff, Ohio Department of Transportation
  • Tara Britton, Director of Public Policy, The Center for Community Solutions
  • Holly Holtzen, State Director, AARP
  • Maridell Couture, Cuyahoga County DSAS, APS Presentation
  • Spence Kline, Senior Director of Treatment, Prevention and Recovery, Catholic Charities
  • David Merriman, Director, Cuyahoga County Division of Health and Human Services
  • The Honorable Yvonne Conwell, Cuyahoga County Councilwoman, District 7
  • Natasha Pietrocola, Interim Administrator, Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services (DSAS)
  • Joyce Pan Huang, Director of City Planning, City of Cleveland
  • Allison Lukacsy-Love, Managing Director, Major Projects, Greater Cleveland Partnership
  • Ann Conn, Chief Executive Officer, McGregor Foundation
  • Tangi McCoy, LNHA, MPA, Chief Executive Officer, McGregor PACE
  • Sara Parks Jackson, Deputy Director of Housing and Community Development, Cuyahoga County
  • Ricardo Reinoso, Digital Equity and Inclusion Manager, City of Cleveland

COOP Members also had a chance to visit McGregor to learn about the PACE program, as well as tour the new housing units at McGregor, built in part with funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The McGregor Foundation has been a longtime financial supporter of COOP and members were thrilled to hear the great work great work that is happening.

Inter-organizational changes in 2024

The term of the Chair of COOP is two years. At the conclusion of 2023, Bert Rahl completed his term as COOP Chair. At the last meeting in 2023, the general body of COOP approved Marsha Blanks to serve as the new COOP Chair for 2024-2025. Marsha has served as a professor at Cleveland State University, as well as a psychotherapist, and has been a longtime advocate for older adults.  Michael Billnitzer has agreed to serve as the Vice Chair. Michael is a Vice President at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging and is the Executive Director of Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP).

I am very, very proud of the work that we have done.

Bert Rahl, the outgoing Chair of COOP said, “It has been a real honor and pleasure to serve as the Chair of COOP over the past two years. In that time, we interacted with candidates for Ohio Attorney General, as well as Cuyahoga County Executive. We have also strengthened our internal by-laws to ensure that COOP operates at its best. We also have begun to meet both in-person and virtually, which maximizes accessibility to our meetings. I am very, very proud of the work that we have done. I’d like to personally thank Sheila for all that she has done for COOP and wish her a happy and healthy retirement.”

As Bert referenced, COOP congratulated Sheila Lettsome on her retirement after 18 years at The Center for Community Solutions. It is extremely difficult to describe how important a role Sheila has played in the function of COOP. From organizing the agendas, the meeting venues, the membership rolls, and the internal and external organizational communication, Sheila was and is described as the “lifeblood” of the organization. She will be staying on as a consultant for the first quarter of 2024 before fully entering retirement.

“Serving as a staff liaison to COOP has been a real pleasure over the years. The people, the personalities, and the processes for ensuring that COOP remains the leading focal point for information about the aging network is so amazing to see,” said Lettsome. “While staffing COOP certainly brought some logistical challenges over the years, I am grateful for the people whose paths I have crossed down through the years.”

“Sheila has been the bedrock of COOP for so many years. She was and is such an example of excellence, as well as the importance of planning. She also has been a great resource of wisdom and inspiration over the years. I am grateful to have served alongside her and wish her nothing but the best in retirement,” added William Tarter, Jr., Policy Fellow at Community Solutions, who works alongside Sheila.

The pandemic has changed so much of the policy landscape and COOP is well-positioned to be a catalyst to ensure that the voices of older adults across Greater Cleveland are heard.

Leadership looks ahead

Marsha Blanks, the incoming Chair of COOP said, “I have seen the tremendous growth that COOP has experienced over the year and I am excited to lead the organization over this upcoming term. The pandemic has changed so much of the policy landscape and COOP is well-positioned to be a catalyst to ensure that the voices of older adults across Greater Cleveland are heard.”

Emily Campbell, the new President and Chief Executive Officer of The Center for Community Solutions said “Issues related to older adults have been a priority for The Center for Community Solutions for many decades, and I expect they will continue to remain an area where we cultivate our expertise. Early in my time at Community Solutions, I coordinated the work of COOP and gained a deep appreciation for the wealth of knowledge and experience that COOP members bring to each meeting. I look forward to re-engaging with COOP and its leadership to work together to advance the health and well-being of older adults in Cuyahoga County and across the state.”