Nonprofit partners respond to growing senior housing needs

| Matthew Davis | August 2, 2016 | 0 Comments
From left, Tom Schermerhorn and Paul Thornton, members of the Honeywell Retired Volunteer Program, work with Rebuilding Together’s Ramp Program to build a wheelchair ramp for a local homeowner. Courtesy Angela Dimler/Catholic Community Foundation

From left, Tom Schermerhorn and Paul Thornton, members of the Honeywell Retired Volunteer Program, work with Rebuilding Together’s Ramp Program to build a wheelchair ramp for a local homeowner. Courtesy Angela Dimler/Catholic Community Foundation

A bigger challenge than distance awaited Evon and Charles Wells-Ellis in their decision to have Evon’s mother, Grace Wells, move into their St. Paul home.

Wells, 83, from Omaha, Nebraska, needed wheelchair access and other physical adaptations to live at Wells-Ellis’ Aurora-St. Anthony neighborhood home near St. Peter Claver. The cost of the changes looked daunting at $40,000-$50,000.

“Anyone who was past the age of 70 and no longer working who [was] maybe existing either on their retirement, from their benefits or their Social Security as [a] whole, it’s virtually impossible,” Evon said about affording such changes.

Around 40-50 volunteers from Rebuilding Together Twin Cities helped clear that hurdle by coming to the Wells-Ellis home to make the renovations needed. RTTC received a Social Impact Grant of $10,000 from the Catholic Community Foundation this year to assist in making such projects possible.

“What the grant allowed us to do is to keep doing more fall prevention measures that we install into seniors’ homes,” RTTC Executive Director Kathy Greiner said.

Each year, the St. Paul-based CCF distributes grants for varying social needs. Senior citizen services receive funds from CCF once every three years as part of the Catholic organization’s rotation of programs for the elderly, youth and young parents.

“This is a strategy that allows us to provide larger, more focused grants and hopefully be more strategic about them in terms of their impact since we can get to know the current issues that face vulnerable elderly in a focused way, rather than trying to be all things to all people each year,” said Meg Payne Nelson, CCF data and grants program manager.

RTTC does renovation projects in metro-area counties for senior citizens with an income at 50 percent or more below the median for the area. The nonprofit also requires the residency of at least one disabled person at the home.
Wells-Ellis’ project didn’t just accommodate Wells. Charles Wells-Ellis, a retired engineer, needed assistance following recent knee and back surgeries.

“In order for it [the house] to be accessible for them to be able to move about, there were drastic changes that had to happen,” Evon said, “like door knobs that needed to be knobs more than they needed to be handles because my mother also has arthritis in her hands.”

Evon returned from a work trip the same week renovations on her home began.

“It was just really humbling to talk to some of the guys and ladies that came out to do the volunteer work and just to know they were taking pride in [being useful],” she said.

Twin Cities United Way expects the number of seniors 65 years and older to double by 2030.

United Way also reports that 7.6 percent of seniors live in poverty now, a number at risk of ballooning over the next 15 years. RTTC, which does 120 projects per year, can’t keep up at its current pace if the projected growth transpires.

“It’s going to be a need of great concern moving forward,” Payne Nelson said.

It doesn’t come down to funding alone, though. Organizations such as RTTC will need the volunteer power, and under-tapped resources still exist.

Although RTTC received CCF funds, no Catholic parishes are volunteering to work on the housing projects at this time.

“We’re always looking for volunteers that want to do this on an ongoing basis,” Greiner said.

Evon knows well the need for more help in her neighborhood. Multiple people from the community stopped by her home to inquire about the project. She has already referred another five residents from the area to Rebuild, a simple response to what she has received.

“It wouldn’t have gotten done if Rebuilding didn’t have good relationships with companies like Opus . . . and for whatever reason, took interest in our project,” she said.

Such collaboration will allow Wells-Ellis’ family and her mother to stay in their home of 35 years well into their golden years. It also meets what the CCF set out to do.

“Our focus area was keeping the elderly in their homes for as long as possible, and that project nails it,” Payne Nelson said.

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Category: From Age to Age