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American House and Nonprofits Working Together for Seniors

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Anne Osmer Reporting

Rick De Bruyne first met Winifred Young when she signed up at a local senior center for help with fall yard clean-up.  Seventy-five and living in Canton with her ailing husband, Peter, Winifred was grateful for the help.

She liked Rick, campaign vice-chair for the Plymouth Community United Way, and when he was done with the yard she took him aside and asked if he might help her get some small ramps installed in the house.

You see, she told him, it was very difficult to get Peter, who is wheelchair-bound, up and down two areas with steps.  The steps, while small, presented a serious challenge to the Youngs: Several times a day, Winifred helped Peter out of his wheelchair, moved the wheelchair up or down the steps, then helped Peter get back into the chair.

“And I’m not that young!” she laughed, recounting the story.

Rick was more than happy to help and had small ramps quickly installed. Winifred was relieved.

A more recent request, however, presented a bigger challenge. There were several large steps in the garage leading to the house, and for the same reasons as the smaller steps, they were becoming more and more difficult to navigate.  For about a year now the Youngs have found themselves staying at home more often, when they would rather be taking walks outside and running errands in the car, Winifred said.

There was one major problem: cost.  While the small ramps inside the house were inexpensive to install, Rick investigated and found that the garage steps would require a wheelchair lift.  Lifts cost a lot of money – to the tune of $4,000, in this case.

At about the same time, Rick was approached by another couple, in virtually the same situation.  As with the Youngs, a lift would significantly improve Shirley and Ervin Kamp’s quality of life, and allow them to stay together longer in their home in Canton.

Rick tried his usual resources, with no luck.  Then he called a friend at the Council on Aging, who recommended he contact Terri Bailey at Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology, who in turn recommended he contact a new resource.

Enter American House Foundation. Started last fall by the founder of American House Senior Living Residences, J. Robert Gillette, the foundation strives to help seniors who are struggling financially and have needs from wheelchair ramps and lifts to assistance with chemotherapy payments.  To date, the foundation has raised over $60,000 and given out $48,000, said Michelle Karamon, foundation administrator.

Bailey, development director at the Institute of Gerontology, knew about American House Foundation because of a unique partnership they share.  Like the founders of American House, the Institute of Gerontology is committed to helping seniors, and the foundation has pledged to give the institute 30 percent of money raised to use toward gerontology research.

Bailey helped Rick De Bruyne with the grant application for the Youngs and the Kamps, and they were both thrilled when they learned American House Foundation would fund the entire cost for both families’ wheelchair lifts.  While American House generally gives out grants of $1,500 or less, in certain cases they bend their guidelines.

For the organizations involved, helping others is another way of fulfilling a mission.

“The Institute Of Gerontology is committed to connecting research to outreach efforts,” said Peter Lichtenberg, director at the institute.  “Our partnership with American House Foundation is not only a way to increase our research efforts, but a way to increase our outreach to seniors.”

At the Plymouth Community United Way, the focus has shifted somewhat from funding other agencies to carry out their work, to providing direct assistance to people as well.

“What a great community,” said Marie Morrow, president of the Plymouth Community United Way.  “In times of need this community pulls together. The Plymouth Community United Way raises funds for many agencies that help area people during their times of need. And, in the last several years we have reached out to individuals that needed a hand. We call it “Making a Community Impact” and hopefully for these two families benefiting from the wheelchair lift assists, we have all done just that. We have made a collaborative community impact.”

The work American House Foundation carries out is a way to “reach out to the community even more” than through the housing provided by American House, said Michelle Karamon.  The foundation is actively reaching out to nonprofits in metro Detroit to collaboratively help seniors in need, she said.

American House Foundation, Plymouth Community United Way, Wayne State’s Institute of Gerontology, the Council on Aging.  Collaboration is not just a buzzword in this case where four nonprofits worked together to share information and get help in the hands of those who really need it.  Throughout the process, the organizations stayed in contact, and De Bruyne said Bailey was instrumental in keeping communication going.

The wheelchair lifts should be installed within the next 10 days, rendering two families mobile once more.

“What a wonderful thing,” said Winifred Young.  “It really is a godsend.”

Indeed.
 

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