Sentinel Progress

Sometimes, you just have to help

Lately, I have become very reflective about the people I have met during my long career at United Way of Pickens County. My memories have been triggered by how many times, over the past few weeks, I have been asked to help someone in need.

Most of the time, I let my colleagues handle these situations. It is well known among the “direct assistance” agencies that I am NOT a good social worker. I don’t have the ability to discern if someone is telling me the truth or not. Therefore, I either believe everyone — or no one.

I have found that it is just best to pass these calls along to folks who are way more qualified than me.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There are times when vulnerable people just get under your skin and into your heart. Compassion and morality command that you help them. The voice of reason flies out of the window. You are compelled.

For my former co-worker, the late Nancy Bagwell, it was Janie.

Janie was not exactly elderly but she qualified to ride the Seniors Unlimited bus. At the time, our United Way managed a prescription assistance program and Nancy provided Janie with her medication. Trust me, Janie needed that medication!

Janie would call Nancy every day. I can still hear her in her very heavy southern accent, “Julie? This is Janie. Is Nancy there?” Nancy just loved her.

Unfortunately, as Janie’s health deteriorated, both mentally and physically, she became exceedingly combative and difficult. She would cry and get kicked off the senior transportation bus … because she hit the driver with her cane! She was incontinent. But, it didn’t matter. Janie would call stranded and crying and Nancy would come to the rescue and take her home.

When Janie died, Nancy visited the funeral home. She called me sobbing.

There were no sympathy flowers or flowers for the casket. There were a few family members at Janie’s funeral but the majority of the mourners were the many employees from all of the local social service agencies that served Janie over the years; United Christian Ministries, SHARE, Salvation Army, United Way … and yes, Seniors Unlimited. Her casket was draped by the most beautiful pink roses. Nancy made sure of it!

Karen Culley, Vice President of Community Impact, had her “special person” too.

Dorothy, an elderly woman with significant health issues, barely existed on a very limited budget. Dorothy owned her home but she couldn’t maintain it. Karen enlisted the help of the Duke Energy retirees who built her a wheelchair ramp, fixed the sinking floor and patched the leaky roof. Dorothy called her constantly and Karen made sure her basic needs were met.

After a few years of almost constant contact, Karen stopped hearing from Dorothy. A few months later her obituary appeared in the Easley Progress.

“My guy” shall remain nameless because people may know him.

The first time we met, he was living in an old wooden tool shed and needed kerosene for his heater. There were so many things wrong with this scenario including a shed, wood and flammable materials. But he was cold, it was freezing, so I helped him. At the time, United Way was conducting the first ever homelessness count. Living in a tool shed definitely met the HUD “homeless” criteria. I convinced him to let me count him.

Frankly, he was a little scary. For many years, from time to time, usually in the winter, he asked me to help him with a variety of things. It was obvious he was an alcoholic and when he was under the influence, he was a little intimidating.

Not to me. I had ground rules. “Sober up, clean up, man up and I will try and help you.” When he was sober, he was polite and respectful. Drunk, he was a jerk.

The last time I saw him, he presented me with a paper bag overflowing with documents. He needed a copy of his birth certificate to qualify for benefits. It smacked me right in the face, HE COULDN’T READ!

We applied for the birth certificate. I guess he received it because we never saw him again. I’ve often wondered. Is he dead or alive? I heard through the grapevine he might be in prison.

My experience with this illiterate man fuels my burning passion for Camp iRock and why reading proficiently matter by the end of third grade matters so much. I can only imagine how different my guy’s life could have been difference if he had been able to read.

I found this great statement in a very long report about the importance of early childhood literacy: “Getting more young children to read proficiently is no mission impossible.”

Heck yes, it absolutely IS possible. The reason I know this is because the partnership of the School District of Pickens County, the Pickens County YMCA and United Way of Pickens County are getting it done.

Camp iRock Year 4 starts on June 6 and runs through July 27.

We are still working on raising enough money to fully fund the addition of three new kindergarten classes. If you would like to help, go to our website, www.uwpickens.org. Click on the donate button and you will change the life of a child.

We also have opportunities to volunteer at Camp iRock. There is nothing more fun than reading with a child.

Amen to that!

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By Julie Capaldi

Contributing columnist

Julie Capaldi is president of United Way of Pickens County. She can be reached at jcapaldi@uwpickens.org or 864-850-7094, extension 101.