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Open mind opened doors


Leslie Yoder greets regular visitor Shawana Young, a Senior and People with Disabilities Program Home Care Worker. After reading about Multnomah County senior services now offered through the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) in the August Mid-county Memo, Yoder made a call that changed her life for the better.
Yoder completes paperwork with Young’s help. Despite being Yoder’s caseworker for only two months, the two have formed a strong bond. A Home Care Worker for eight years, Young does pretty much whatever needs to be done around the house in order to keep Yoder in a healthy environment.
Shawana Young, left, a Home Care Worker with Multnomah County’s Senior and People with Disabilities Program is representative of one of seven different agencies and programs Leslie Yoder came into contact with via the Immigrant and Refugee Organization after reading about IRCO’s Senior Program in a Mid-county Memo article last year.
Last November, the Memo published a letter from Mid-county resident Leslie Yoder expressing gratitude for an August Memo Pad article (“IRCO’s multiculturalism now includes mainstream clients”) about senior services offered by Mid-county’s Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization.

IRCO and other volunteer/nonprofit and government agencies assist families and individuals in compromised situations, many of who would otherwise suffer silently. Our region abounds with services to assist low-income, elderly and disabled residents. Unfortunately, many of those who qualify for such programs lack the information to benefit from them. As a free neighborhood newspaper, the Memo seeks to inform all Mid-county residents of the services that help to strengthen our community. We believe others may benefit from hearing Yoder’s story.

In 1999, Leslie Yoder, then a college instructor working on her doctorate, fell ill. Since that time, she has battled three chronic health issues that forced her to retire to her east Portland home while struggling to remain independent with the help of her two daughters, Beth and Briana.

A year ago Beth was offered job in the United Arab Emirates. Yoder, who had made many advancements since the inception of her illness, grew concerned over how to fill the substantial loss to her support system, a once-large network that had rapidly dwindled following the recent deaths of two close friends and her younger brother.

At first she tried to take it in stride, but stomach complications made the simple act of cooking difficult, and she only realized after collapsing one day that she was not eating enough to sustain herself. Reliant on Social Security, she worried about how to meet her needs on a budget. Then she read our Memo Pad article about IRCO’s senior services.

“I knew what IRCO was because my daughter had tutored Somalian children through that,” Yoder said, “but this article made the comment that 70 percent of people helped through IRCO were Americans, so I thought if nothing else I should start Meals-on-Wheels (IRCO doesn’t run Meals-on-Wheels, but can connect their clients to the program) until I can cook again because if they deliver me a meal I’m committed to eating it.”

After she made the call, “someone from the seniors and disabilities division came into my house for a two- to three-hour interview, very extensive. It covered every aspect of living, the physical, medical, and social, psychological, spiritual. It dealt with my ability to grocery shop, to clean, to keep the yard up. Within a couple of weeks, I had received something back saying this is the plan.”

As a result of the interview, the caseworker recommended a team of medical professionals who contacted her to offer their services, which she has since taken advantage of.

“It has been incredible. I think the caseworker and that team have improved my ability to stay independent, calm and physically healthy. I’m doing beautifully because of their support. It means a lot because my social world used to be very large and now it’s very small, so the Meals-on-Wheels meets needs in several areas. In addition to the nutrition is the smile of the person at my door.”

Illness humbles the once self-sufficient. For those who lack family or face it on a low income, it becomes harrowing as well. So Yoder, who described herself as a “voracious reader,” started collecting articles on public aid services. “I wish they had a comprehensive booklet of everything that is available.” She explained the conundrum of others in her situation, “There are other things out there, but you don’t know about it until someone tells you.”

Human Solutions, for example, has helped Yoder immensely. “At Human Solutions, I learned that I could apply for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program.” Her income level also qualified her for a reduced sewer bill, reduced water bill, reduced phone bill and $300 of energy assistance applied to her electric bill annually through Oregon Housing and Community Service’s LIEAP.

To help restrict her energy output, Yoder applied for Multnomah County’s Weatherization Program which, helps to reduce home energy costs for low-income homeowners by identifying areas of energy waste and staunching the leaks. It took a crew three days to properly insulate and correct ventilation issues in Yoder’s home.

Some programs provide people’s basic needs while also improving self-sufficiency. The organization GrowingGardens tackles hunger by installing organic, raised-bed vegetable gardens in the yards of those in need. It aims to improve nutrition, health and self-reliance by providing the (literal) roots of food and the know-how to get started. Yoder saw an opportunity to begin feeding herself again by starting small. “They are going to make (the garden) a disabled one so I can be able to sit down on the edge around it to work,” she said.

Often enrollment in one program will lead to the awareness of others. For example, Yoder’s Meals-on-Wheels representative dropped off an application for Rebuilding Together Portland, a volunteer organization that helps to improve security and independence for low-income families, the elderly or those with disabilities by rehabilitating their homes.

Yoder had recently received home repair services from another organization, REACH Community Development, which specializes in home repair services, affordable housing assistance and financial education for low-income families, but considered adding some more safety precautions after suffering a recent fainting spell.

Another group, Elders in Action, which aims to improve the lives of the elderly through community and consumer advocacy and assistance, inspired Yoder after she observed that many of the volunteers were themselves 55 or older.

“I have nothing but praise for the people I have encountered,” she said about the aid workers. “That’s why I was willing to tell my story. If only one other person reads it and realizes, I’m a middle-class American who used to be a professor or a doctor or whatever and circumstances have changed greatly to put me in this position here, maybe I should make a phone call to see what kind of help is available. It isn’t just the blessing of the goods and services — it’s the kindness and the respect with which you are treated that is so uplifting for anyone going through whatever hard time.”

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