CHATHAM – At first glance, it may seem counterintuitive to have the town's council on aging director also oversee the recreation department, dealing with programs at both ends of the age spectrum.
But there are synergies between the two, said Leah LaCross, recently named the town's first director of community services.
“It can be a dynamic relationship,” she said. “Older adults and young people are, in many ways, a match made in heaven.”
LaCross has spent her career working with seniors and youths in a number of public and non-profit settings, so working with the council on aging, recreation and beach departments seemed a natural fit.
“I felt like it was tailored to what I wanted,” she said.
The new position is part of a department reorganization initiated by Town Manager Jill Goldsmith and endorsed by the select board, finance committee and town meeting. As director of community services, LaCross will work with the new recreation and beach director, a position which has yet to be filled, as well as recreation department staff supervising the community center, beaches and youth and recreation programs. She will also oversee the human services grant program, childcare voucher program, and the new Dr. Florence Seldin Family Support Program. As COA director, she will also run the senior center and work with its staff. She'll work out of the COA director's office at the Stony Hill Road senior center.
LaCross has been in the human services field for more than 25 years.
“She has spent her career focusing on developing programming for youth, as well as advocating for aging and vulnerable adults and ensuring that their healthcare and programmatic needs are met,” Goldsmith wrote in a memo to the select board announcing the appointment earlier this month. “She is a skilled grant writer and is highly experienced in budget development and oversight.”
Her most recent position was director of planning and grants at the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, managing state and federal funding and planning for program expansion. She led and helped develop the enhanced mobility for seniors program at the agency, which provides vehicles to all councils on aging for medical and other senior transportation needs.
Prior to that, LaCross was chief operating officer at Cape Abilities, Inc., which serves Cape residents with disabilities. She was responsible for the strategic growth of the agency and developed a day program for its older participants.
A Dennis native, LaCross graduated from Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School and received her undergraduate degree from Curry College, later graduating from Suffolk University with a master's degree in public administration.
She is also an active volunteer in the community. She is president of the Dennis-Harwich Rotary Club and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity Cape Cod, the Family Pantry of Cape Cod and Faith Family Kitchen. She is also secretary of the Dennis Fire Station II building committee.
LaCross has three grown children and lives in Dennis with her husband Chuck, a firefighter on the Dennis department.
Perhaps the biggest challenge LaCross will face in her new position is working with the COA board, town officials and residents toward the long-sought-after goal of a new senior center. Voters have rejected two sites for a new facility – Middle Road and 1610 Main St. in West Chatham – and feasibility studies are currently being conducted of reusing the existing senior center location on Stony Hill Road and incorporating a senior center, or some senior programs in conjunction with a smaller facility at the current site, into the community center.
While there can be benefits in mixing seniors and kids, older adults need their own space to socialize and receive services, LaCross said. “We have to kind of find that balance,” she said.