Grand marshals Vernon Odom and Lisa Thomas-Laury to lead PCA’s 50th anniversary celebration
By Bill Conallen
2023 marks the 50th year of Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) serving older Philadelphians and adults living with disabilities. In 1973, Rodney D. Williams, PCA’s first executive director, founded the agency with the vital mission of improving the quality of life for older Philadelphians and adults with disabilities, to assist them in achieving their maximum level of health, independence and productivity. PCA’s programs have come to encompass everything from in-home care and transportation to nutrition programs, health screenings and protective services.
To usher in PCA’s 50th anniversary, the agency has announced that two Philadelphia media icons will serve as grand marshals and add their unique perspectives on the impact PCA has made in the City of Brotherly Love: former Channel 6 Action News reporter Vernon Odom and anchor Lisa Thomas-Laury.
“Philadelphia is a city in dire need of advocates who are tirelessly focused on providing older adults the resources they need to ensure they are safe, happy and healthy in their homes,” said Odom. “This servant’s heart is one I saw everyday as a young man, when my father worked as a social worker in Akron, Ohio. I could not be more honored to champion this message during PCA’s 50th anniversary.”
Vernon Odom’s broadcasting experience dates back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination when he was a radio reporter in Atlanta. From there, Odom covered various phases of the civil rights movement in the south and every presidential campaign from 1976 to 2016. During more than 40 years at WPVI-Channel 6, he reported on every major event in Philadelphia.
“Throughout my career, both reporting in Philadelphia and internationally, I have seen first-hand how the lack of adequate resources and social services can impact citizens both young and old,” said Odom. “PCA’s mission of serving older adults is one that is incredibly vital as our nation’s population ages and the need for advocacy and protection in support of older adults becomes even more important.”
Lisa Thomas-Laury is a retired Emmy award-winning news anchor who broke barriers by becoming one of the first Black TV journalists in the country. In 1978, she became the youngest news anchor in Philadelphia when she began working at the city’s ABC affiliate, WPVI-Channel 6 as a reporter and co-anchor of Action News at noon. In 1983, she started co-anchoring Action News at 5 p.m. and became a regular fill-in at the anchor desk for the recently retired Jim Gardner during the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. After 22 years at WPVI, Thomas-Laury faced a significant life challenge: a battle with POEMS syndrome, a rare nerve disorder that took two years to diagnose. Her diagnosis prompted her to author the book “On Camera and Off,” hoping to motivate others suffering from chronic illnesses to live their best lives and to help them navigate the challenging health care system.
“We could not be more thrilled to have such beloved figures in the Philadelphia area serve as our grand marshals for PCA’s 50th anniversary celebration,” said Najja R. Orr, DBA, MBA, PCA’s president and CEO. “For decades, residents throughout the Delaware Valley have welcomed Vernon and Lisa into their homes and came to trust them for their skill, tact and professionalism.”
A great societal need necessitated an innovative approach to how our country provided for its older adult population. Thus in 1965, the federal Older Americans Act (OAA) was created due to major concerns for the needs of the growing older adult population. It was the first major federal legislation to organize and deliver community-based social services to older adults.
PCA was created in 1973 when the first reauthorization of the OAA created a network of Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) to deliver vital home- and community-based programs. Today, there are more than 600 AAAs throughout the U.S. that provide OAA programs to older adults in their communities. Federal AAA oversight and allocation of OAA-authorized funds is conducted through the Administration for Community Living (ACL).
To commemorate the agency’s growth alongside the changing landscape of the city it calls home, PCA has many events planned throughout the year. As grand marshals, Odom and Thomas-Laury will illustrate how PCA’s mission and vision have grown with the city and the older adults it serves on a daily basis.
“Philadelphia as a city has changed quite a bit since my career in journalism began many years ago,” said Odom. “Many of the challenges from poverty, lack of adequate resources and safety concerns, however, remain just as prevalent today as they were when I first came to this great city. My goal as grand marshal is to tell the story of how PCA has steadfastly advocated on behalf of older adults throughout the city during the past 50 years to address some of the pressing issues affecting their communities, while also having a vision for the future.”
Those interested in learning more about PCA’s 50th anniversary or upcoming events highlighting the agency’s work over the past five decades can visit pcaCares.org. For information about PCA’s programs and services, call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040 or click on the Services menu at the top of this page.
Bill Conallen is the public relations specialist at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.