Karla Gordon could barely contain her excitement. She had a surprise for her aunt, 96-year-old Helen Judah. Helen had recently fallen and was recovering at The Bluffs, a rehab facility for senior citizens in Columbia, but it was time for her to leave - and she was concerned about where she would get the necessary tools and equipment, like a walker, that allowed her to live independently.
Karla picked Helen up on the day of her release.
“I wanted to tell you about all the new things I’d gotten for you, but I wanted to wait,” Karla told her aunt. “It was so hard not to say anything.”
The “things” Karla was talking about were a walker, transportation and other household items that will allow Helen to regain and retain her independence once she got home. All provided to Helen by Services for Independent Living.
The last time Helen needed a walker, after a previous fall, she was able to go through Medicare. But that walker is now too tall for Helen to use, and since the recent fall happened so soon after the first, she was unable to go through Medicare.
So she and Karla were looking for ways to get a walker when the stumbled across Services for Independent Living, which is based in Columbia. The organization loaned Helen these items for free and with no deadline to return them.
How does this work? Well, Services for Independent Living takes in donations ranging from wheelchairs to dinner forks with specialized grips. Volunteers then cleans the donations and gives the items to people in need - like Helen. People can either get an item on loan, if it is a short term need, or keep the item if it’s a permanent need.
“What a surprise. It was nice not to have to pay for it. It was wonderful. I probably didn’t ask enough questions because I was so thrilled,” Karla said. “I probably thought, they’re going to realize in a minute that they shouldn’t give all of this to me.”
Ann Marie Gortmaker, the outreach specialist for the organization, says Services for Independent Living makes a concerted effort to make their services available to everyone regardless of their financial situations.
“When they see our van go by and see Services for Independent Living and think ‘Oh, that’s not for me’,” Gortmaker said. “We really want to integrate our services to meet needs to everyone in the community. That’s the only way this works is if the whole community is involved.”
S.I.L. also has a demonstration center, so that the consumer is able to come in and test out the equipment they will be using - like the dinner forks with specialized grips for people with bad arthritis in their hands.
“It would be beneficial for them to come in and hold a few of our different utensils to see which ones they are most comfortable with,” Gortmaker said.
In 2014, Services for Independent Living redistributed 552 items to more than 400 people.
Like all of those people, Helen is beginning her process of regaining her independence.
Helen’s old walker, the one that’s too tall is now sitting in her garage. So very soon, she and Karla will pack up the old walker and drive it over to Services for Independent Living - so the next person in a situation like Helen’s can begin their process of getting their own independence.