I have an elderly neighbor who I am concerned about. This past year, I noticed a big decline in her home. The weeds and grass were several feet high, and I know she had bad flooding in her basement. I knocked on her door multiple times to ask her if she needed any help, before she finally answered. At first, all she would tell me was that she was fine, but from what I had seen, she was not fine. I could smell mold when she opened the door, and she looked thin to me, so I returned with some food, which she thankfully accepted. Using the excuse of retrieving my plate, I came back with another plate of food a day later, and she again accepted. I asked if my son could mow her grass for her, and after some convincing, she finally agreed. There are some other odd jobs I have been able to talk her into letting me do, but she did not want to let me inside. After two weeks of me dropping off food and working on her yard, she finally has opened up to me. I found out last year she had used her retirement funds to pay for repairs to her basement that a contractor said he would do. He convinced her to pay in full up front, but never showed up to do the work. She was scammed out of what little retirement funds she had left. Now, her social security is not enough to pay the taxes, upkeep and utilities, in addition to food and health care. The home is in terrible shape. She tries to keep it up, but all you can smell is mold coming up from the basement. I know she needs to get out of there. I even offered her my son’s room, but she was adamant that she would not put him out of his room. I am a single mother, and my son and I rent a two-bedroom house right next door. I don’t have much to share other than some food and our help with household chores. I know she needs much more than this. I asked her about any family, and all she would tell me was they are all gone. I mentioned you to her, but she was too embarrassed to ask for help herself. I told her I would write to you for her. Thank you for considering this sweet woman for assistance from your organization.
Again we find an elderly person living in terrible conditions. This has happened too many times this year already. I was happy to hear this senior woman had such a caring neighbor, but I also knew she needed much more help than this neighbor would be able to provide. That is where all of us working together can make a dramatic difference in a fellow creation’s life.
I arrived at the address given to me by the caring neighbor, and noticed while the home was in need of obvious major repairs, the outside was trimmed and neat. I knew this was probably thanks to who I assumed was the caring neighbor sitting on the front step. She stood up when I approached, and we introduced ourselves. After a brief conversation and her warning to prepare myself for what was inside, we knocked on the front door.
The neighbor did not even need to tell me to prepare myself, as I could smell the mold from outside. I was glad to see open windows, and the neighbor said she had told the senior woman she had to leave them open. She said: “I cannot be inside for more than a few minutes before I start to cough and my eyes water. I am highly allergic to mold.”
The elderly woman came to the door, and I noticed the smile when she saw her neighbor, but apprehension when she saw me. This was expected, especially with what the neighbor had told me about her. We were introduced, and then she invited us inside. I immediately felt the effects of the mold. I asked the elderly woman if it would be alright for me to walk through her home, and she said it would be alright. The neighbor accompanied me as we quickly walked through the small home. She already knew the most damaged areas, so she made the tour even quicker.
There was not only standing water in her basement that had been there for months, there was obvious roof leaks causing more mold to grow in the ceilings and walls. The damage was much worse than I had even imagined from the outside.
Due to our reactions to the mold, we told the elderly woman we would need to talk outside as the neighbor had suggested. The neighbor helped her down the few steps into the yard and then asked the elderly woman if she needed anything. She replied: “I put together all the paperwork you told me I would need. I left it on my countertop in the kitchen.”
The neighbor went to grab the papers, and left us to talk alone for a moment.
I asked the woman how long she had lived at the home. She told me 30 years. She told me she had never married and had instead shared her home with her sister for years. She added: “My sister and I owned the house together until she died five years ago.When she died, she didn’t leave a will, so her half of the house was given to her estranged son. I tried to fight for it, but he ended up getting not only her half of the house, but also her savings. I had asked her many times if she had her affairs in order, but she died unexpectedly and wasn’t prepared. I had to use my savings to buy her half of the house from her no-good son. Those savings were supposed to help me maintain the house and pay the taxes for years to come.”
Looking at the house, I could see this home was not a good investment for her savings. If she had consulted me at the time, I would have told her to sell the home and split the proceeds with her undeserving nephew, but this was five years in the past, and according to the elderly woman, she had not consulted anyone.
I asked about the contractor who had taken her money, and she told me the same story I have heard before. Vulnerable elderly fellow creations believing they are doing the right thing, but being taken advantage of. It angers me to think someone could do that to this seemingly kind woman. I asked if she had contacted the police, and she told me she had filed a report, but they had never caught the man.
When the neighbor returned, I began to go through the paperwork she had put together for me. I saw the overdue real estate tax bills, the past four years’ worth, and then the sheriff’s sale notice. When I checked these documents, I noticed the dates were several months old, and when I checked, her home actually had already been sold. She did not understand this until she had read the documents I held in my hand. She only had a few weeks to move out of her home.
I explained to her it was too late, that her home had already been sold. She looked down in embarrassment and admitted: “I know. I was too embarrassed to tell my neighbor.”
After looking over the home and the repairs needed, there was no amount of money this elderly woman could ever have come up with that would be enough to fix its many problems.
I told her not to worry, that we — all of us together — would be helping her to move to a place where she could afford food and daily necessities in addition to rent and utilities. She said: “I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t know what to do. Every day I have been worrying over where I would go when the sheriff came to my door.”
The elderly woman began to cry saying: “I am so ashamed. How could I be so stupid? I believed my sister when she told me she had a will, and I believed that man when he told me he could fix my house. How am I supposed to know if I can trust you?”
The neighbor tried to console her as she continued to weep.
Once she calmed down, I showed her some information about our charity on my phone. I shared with her the videos from CNN Heroes, the Realtor Good Neighbor Award, Fox News, CBS News and WGN. I showed her pictures of me with other fellow creations receiving help, and with people she would recognize. She watched all these and said: “That is you. You and your charity are for real. I think I can trust you. Will you be able to help me?”
The neighbor and I both assured her I was exactly who I said I was, and our charity does the good deeds we said we do, and we would indeed be able to help her. With that, she broke into tears again, and her neighbor once more comforted her.
The first thing I wanted to do was get her out of the home with its dangerous mold fumes. I don’t know how she was tolerating it. When I asked her this, she said she had been suffering from headaches and a cough for months. In fact, those symptoms that began after her roof began to leak and her basement flooded were what led her to look for someone to make the repairs in the first place. The elderly woman said she was living in the mold smell for so long, she didn’t even smell it anymore unless she was outside for a while and then returned. I told the senior woman that I would like to put her in a motel until we found an apartment she could afford. She resisted, but finally gave in when I explained to her the effects on her body the mold could have.
The neighbor offered to help her pack up her clothing, toiletries and other few belongings she could take that were not filled with mold. I had an apartment in mind for the woman, and also gave her advice on applying for housing assistance and food stamps. She would be eligible for more assistance now that she no longer owned a home.
I called a local motel to make arrangements for a room for the elderly woman, and then called the landlord of a building I have worked with in the past. We were in luck that he had a one-bedroom ground floor that would be available in a week. I told him we would take it and the neighbor offered to accompany the senior woman to take a look the following day to be sure. The elderly woman was hesitant to live in an apartment, as she had lived in her home for so long. I explained to her how she would no longer have to worry about upkeep or outside maintenance. She would not have to worry about taxes or other home-owning expenses. I told her how she would no longer have to contend with stairs or mold or roof leaks. With a careful budget, she could afford food, toiletries and household necessities. The elderly woman listened, and then I saw a glimpse of a smile.
She finally said: “I never thought of all those things. Now I feel like I can’t wait to move in. The only thing I will miss will be my wonderful neighbor and her son.”
The neighbor reached over and took the woman’s hand, saying: “This apartment is still close by. We can come to visit all the time.”
We went over the senior woman’s budget, and once I removed all the home expenses she had been trying to pay each month, the high utilities and water bill, she would have enough to pay her rent each month. I told the senior woman she would have to replace all her furniture and bed, as these would all contain mold spores. All her clothing would need to be washed before packing in plastic bags, not her old suitcases down in the flooded basement.
When we were finished with our review and I had made my list of items and assistance she would need, I got up to say goodbye to the two women. I handed the senior woman gift cards for food and toiletries I knew she was having difficulties purchasing. I also handed the neighbor a gift card for gas, as I knew from our conversations that she, too, was struggling, and she had graciously offered to help the woman take her clothing to a laundromat and move to her hotel. I also had offered a volunteer to help with getting her settled in her apartment once it was ready. As the senior woman had very few belongings, other than some photo albums and mementos from her sister, the neighbor said they could handle it themselves. They were going to just grab the few belongings she needed right now to move to the motel.
We said our goodbyes with a promise to be in touch soon. A few days later, after seeing the apartment and both finding it perfect, a security deposit and two months’ rent were delivered to the landlord. The two women went shopping together to purchase a few household necessities that were too damaged by mold at her old house. Sheets, towels and food were all brought to the apartment along with a few pieces of used furniture. By the time the woman moved in, the apartment was much more of a home than her old mold-filled home had been for the past few years.
A few months later, the elderly woman called me and left a message. Her message was: “How can I thank your organization? You saved me and gave me back my health.”
Yes, thank you and God bless you for allowing us to provide our assistance to not only this elderly woman, but many people just like her throughout our communities. We are continuing to use the Barnabas Matching Grant funds to provide this caring assistance and will soon share with all of you where every penny of your donations was used to help the poverty-stricken in desperate need.
Health and happiness, love and God bless everyone, Sal
Please help: There are many coming to us in desperation. Our good fellow creations need our compassion. Together we make a big difference. Make checks payable to: The Time Is Now to Help, P.O. Box 1, Lake Geneva, WI 53147. The Time Is Now to Help is a federally recognized 501©3 charitable organization licensed in the states of Wisconsin and Illinois. You will receive a tax deductible, itemized thank you receipt showing how your donation provided assistance for the poverty stricken.
A very special thank you: Barnabas Donors, Rhoades Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Trust, Estate of Arlis Hogberg, Ted Bluey and Bernie Swartz, Paul Ziegler, Ziegler Charitable Foundation, Grunow Family Fund, a component of the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin, Kunes Country Auto Group, Kune’s Family Foundation, Thomas Morrissy, Jeff Martin, Lake Geneva Area Realty, Unilock, Dick and Jean Honeyager, Williams Bay School District Art Fair Fundraiser, John and Rita Race, Virginia Sammon, Elhorn Lions Club, Michael and Sally Anne Chier, Direct Contract Cleaning, Father Hugh Fullmer, Mary Dunham, Robert and Patricia Davis, Anna Kiel, Joseph and Beth Pizzo, Judy Dishneau, Diana Sayrs, and Rendall Family Foundation.
Memorials: Sally Rayner in memory of her husband Lawrence Rayner Jr. Robert and Juliana Hummel and John and Joan Perrigo in memory of Lawrence Rayner Jr.
Prayer chain: The power of prayer and positive thoughts comes from the true healer, our Lord answering our prayers. Please pray for healing for the following people: Talyn, Mike, Susan, Sylvia, Richard, Jennifer, Jayden, Maria C., Alex, Lily, Kaitlyn, Sheila, Rhonda, Deda Lee, Marilyn, Helen, Dennis, Mary, Joseph, Sal, Jordan, Jean, Tom L. and Arabelle J.
Please visit: www.timeisnowtohelp.org