Residents get a helping hand through life’s changes

Marian and Allen Schuettpelz have been married for 63 years.

“We did everything together,” says Marian, 86.

The soft morning light from the windows of her tiny Oshkosh home illuminated Marian’s wistful expression as she recalled the 15 times the couple packed their belongings and moved, the good times she and Allen had with family and friends at their cottage home, and the heartbreak of losing two of their six children – one to Leukemia at age 8 and another still born.

“So, we’ve been through a lot,” she says.

The spring of 2011 brought another life change for the couple. Allen’s health deteriorated and he required more nursing care than he could get at home. When Allen, 85, moved to Bethel Home in Oshkosh, it was the first time the couple had been apart.

Marian, who suffers from chronic back pain, was having a hard time keeping up the house and, worst of all, getting to Bethel to visit her husband.

Introduce Linda Whitton, the “whiz” who is making Marian’s life so much easier.

Linda, a caregiver with the Help at Home program, has a standing date with Marian each week to do whatever needs to be done – change the bed sheets, prepare a meal, do laundry, pull weeds in the garden or take Marian to visit Allen.

“I don’t know what I’d do without her,” says Marian.

Help at Home, offered by Oshkosh nonprofit Clarity Care, provides eight hours per month of in-home care to elderly or disabled clients. What sets the program apart and makes it one-of-a-kind in Northeast Wisconsin is its sliding fee scale. Clients pay from $5 to $14 per hour for care, depending on their income level. This means that even low-income residents who don’t qualify for government assistance still can afford to maintain their independent living longer.

The program is funded solely by donations and grants, including funds from the Ladies Benevolent Society: Advocates for Older Adults Fund and the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs, both field of interest funds of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation; and a Community Development Block Grant, administered by the Community Foundation.

“Help at Home is very cost efficient and with just a few hours a month, it can make such a difference,” says Leslie Taylor, grant developer for Clarity Care. “The job (of personal caregiver) is taking care of the client, but our caregivers know that it’s for companionship too.”

The companionship is a boon for Marian, who looks forward to talking with Linda each week. “And she’s a pretty good cook, too,” Marian says.

In Winnebago County, 78 people received care through Help at Home during the 2010-11 fiscal year. More than 90 percent of those clients live on less than half of the county’s median income and could not afford home care without the program’s sliding fee scale. In fact, the average hourly rate paid by clients $5 per hour, the lowest on the scale.

“For what we pay in tax dollars for one person to go into a nursing home, 30 people can stay in their homes (for the cost of Help at Home),” Leslie says. “And people want to stay in their homes.”

With Baby Boomers aging, the need for in-home care is growing fast, says Mary Kummerow Johnson, communications and fund development coordinator for Clarity Care.

With continued funding and additional support, the plan is for Help at Home to serve more people, she says. The nonprofit will collaborate with volunteer groups and is working on several projects that will provide additional services, like transportation, and a database accessible to all providers to improve care coordination.

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