TELOS 2017: Columbus, Ohio

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This year’s trip took TELOS to Columbus, Ohio, where Rebuilding Together Central Ohio pulled together a remarkable project for us.  Read on!

When the RTCO staff visited Mary for the first time, the 67-year-old nurse and caregiver proudly showed us her nursing diploma and gerontology certificate and photos of two of her sons in their uniforms. Then she led us down a long hallway where 8x10’s of each of the veterans she has provided a home for over the years are displayed. The photos are of old men, long forgotten, most with no family except Mary.

Mary started her nursing career in Appalachian Kentucky, where she spent 10 years making home visits. She said that she was overwhelmed by the degree of need and poverty and decided over 17 years ago that it was her calling to find a way to provide a home for senior veterans. In 2000, she went back to school to take business classes, build a business plan and look for funding. Not one bank would take her seriously, so she went looking for a property she could afford to buy on her own.

After a long search she met a senior woman who wanted to move closer to her family. This woman sold her property to Mary on land contract. After Mary made a year of payments, she was able to get a mortgage, but it was a little late. Mary is still working to pay off debt accumulated during her efforts to put the home together.

Today, Mary and one full-time aide support a family of five senior veterans. Toni, the aide, is also a veteran. They sat at the kitchen table with us to explain how they manage to meet VA requirements, juggle the medical demands of five seniors and put homemade meals on the table despite differing dietary demands. They meet monthly with the VA and with a dietician to ensure they are providing good care.

We met Mary’s oldest son, Larry and his oldest son, Sean. They stop by every day to check on things, make as many repairs as they can and visit with the residents. Sean, a high school freshman, shyly shared that he is in ROTC and plans a military career. They are quick to admit that the home is in shabby condition, pointing with pride to work they have done to help hold things together, and equally to things they don’t have the means to address.

While some of the conditions of the home have been grandfathered in by the VA, Mary recognizes that there are safety and code issues that should be addressed. Two cracked windows, rock pocked siding and missing gutter sections are threatening her insurance coverage. A too high from the ground, too narrow window has turned a bedroom into a storage area because it doesn’t meet VA requirements. An old Pushmatic electric panel limits the number of light bulbs in fixtures because it trips all of the time.

And, there are health and safety issues. The floors are quilted together of various remnants of materials- carpet here, vinyl or laminate there. Thresholds are uneven and woodwork shows fresh scars from wheelchair and walker mishaps. Two of the current residents use wheelchairs and cannot access areas of the home because of uneven thresholds. There are no overhead lights in the bedrooms and they are dark and dreary on the rainy day we are visiting. The smaller bath isn’t accessible to wheelchairs. The toilet in the larger bath wasn’t flushing that day because John, the resident tinker had taken it apart and forgotten how to put it back together.  Mary just sighed and handed Larry the parts. He will see if he can figure it out. “Again,” he says as he shakes his head.

Rebuilding Together Central Ohio will work with Mary to prioritize her resident’s needs and provide some respite to her and her family. Sears employees work with RTCO each year and will be invited to participate in this project.  TELOS, a faith-based group from Connecticut will lead the charge on the project, committing four days in June, to making repairs and improvements to ensure that Mary can keep her insurance.   A local sponsor, Palmer Donavin, will help by cutting costs for flooring product. Our IBEW friends will help with ensuring that the electric in the home is sound, replacing and adding fixtures where possible. Mary and her family have big hearts and shallow pockets.  A little help would mean a lot.