It began with a simple request for financial utility assistance. Pretty simple, one might think; just refer the person to the appropriate agency because Charlottesville/Albemarle has organizations that help with utilities. But what if the person on the other end of the line is unable to give her address or the account number of her utility bill? What if she confides that she has a brain injury and cannot keep track of her bills except by going on-line — and now her electricity is off, so she has no access to the Web?
Hmm…various dilemmas are not uncommon here in the Love INC office. Our policy is that we only ask for church assistance if the agencies have no money and if there is a true emergency beyond a person’s control. In this case, there was agency money available, but our lady was unable to connect with them, i.e., write down a phone number and call it.
At this point, all the alarm bells started to go off in the Love INC staffer’s head when fielding this call — better contact Adult Protective Services! But no one answered the phone, and in any case, all we had was the client’s first name and a cell phone number.
Soon thereafter an email arrived from a church in our lady’s area. A woman by the name of Linda Irene had dropped by to speak with them about paying her electric bill, but was unable to give them any additional information. They were quite willing to help if Love INC could do the verification process. After four attempts, we were finally able to reconnect with Linda Irene.
Patiently, our staffer asked about her life situation — about which she was relatively forthcoming — and her physical address, which she could not remember. When the Department of Social Services was mentioned, she got quite suspicious, so obviously contacting Social Services at this point was not going to be well received.
“I’ll tell you what, Linda, you go home and find your electric bill, and we will call you back very soon, and you can read what is written there.” Because we had mentioned Social Services, Linda agreed, but very reluctantly. Would she do it? We didn’t know, but we called back later in the afternoon and reached her.
Linda had found her bill and then said that she was on her way to work. To work? We didn’t know how she could manage a job, given her disability. She read her name and the address as it was written on the bill, but the account number was a mystery to her The staff member suggested that she might be able to take the bill to the church she had gone to, but she was unable to remember where she had been.
Armed with the lady’s full name and her address, Love INC was able to call Virginia Dominion Power and ascertain the actual balance and the “disconnect amount,” as well as the account number so that the church could pay what they wished on the bill. When our staff contacted the church by email, we expressed great concern for this client. We gave the church the information and explained about the brain injury and that she could not use her computer — which was her means for paying bills — because she had no power. She obviously had great trouble with phone calls, etc. Frankly, we didn’t see how she was still working.
We told the church that we thought Dominion Power bills could be paid by a third party and a credit card without a lot of other hassle, but Linda would have trouble doing it without assistance. Dominion no longer had a place to just “take a check” that was accessible to Linda. The church paid the bill and then designated a volunteer to meet with her.
“I’ve been thinking about my meeting with Linda last week,” the volunteer told us, and “I’m wondering when we could touch base again about her needs and what parts we might be able to address or make referrals. As I mentioned after the meeting, I am very concerned about her ability to function independently — and safety — in terms of employment and handling basic living demands. She’s obviously quite a resilient and resourceful person to have made the moves she has and to have managed successfully thus far. She has some real gifts and strengths for sure, and will benefit greatly from having those recognized and cultivated as she builds trust and is nudged to make some connections for additional support.” That church clearly shared our concerns!
Soon the volunteer had found an agency that might be able to help Linda. And what a good thing! We found that Linda was in some deep financial trouble with Social Security for an overpayment. She needed all kinds of help. Linda Irene was put in touch with the BridgeLine Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville.
The church volunteer updated us. “Linda Irene called and asked me over yesterday afternoon,” she said. “I went and we had a nice conversation. She has contacted the case manager at the BridgeLine. She started on the paperwork required and has met with the worker who will be assisting her in updating her resume. They’ll find her some appropriate work that will perhaps pay her better.
“She and her case-manager will be going to the Social Security Administration,” she continued, “to connect her with someone to help sort out her disability issues as well as find a Social Security attorney for legal navigation. She’s supposed to call me this evening to update me on the appointment. On the personal side of things…she’s extremely grateful for our help,” she told us and added, “It’s nice to meet so many confident people.”
The volunteer then said, “Linda has not been eating properly because she can’t afford healthy foods. When I mentioned that there are food pantries, she said that they have very little healthy food and she eats ‘simple things.’ I also found out that she is actually in touch with her family, though she says they hate when she succeeds in anything. She shared her artwork with me. She said that in all her years of living here, I’m the first person she’s invited into her home.”
“The case-manager returned my call today,” the volunteer said. “He confirmed all that Linda Irene has shared with me. He believes that some of her fearfulness stems from a lack of experience. He said that whoever will be her mentor will have to earn her trust.”
In her follow-up, the wonderful volunteer wrote, “Before I left Linda, I prayed with her, but when I tried to give her a hug, I sensed her unease with being touched. I’m going to try to connect with her on a weekly basis. I’ll continue to update you all, and please let me know if any of you have any communication with her.”
It began with a simple request for financial assistance. Had the bill merely been paid without a church volunteer to follow up, Linda Irene’s immediate need would have been met, but her whole life issues would not have been addressed. With this caring church and the very special volunteer on assignment, a relationship of trust has been built. Thankfully, Linda Irene now has a church family to turn to with her problems. And, perhaps in time she will come to trust her Heavenly Father and her Savior as well.