A Silver Lining

Story by Rita Chisum

It wasn’t a feeling to which she was accustomed. The economic climate had drastically changed for so many, but even that was little consolation now that her family had to claim membership in this growing segment of the population. If there was a silver lining to this dark cloud, it was the realization of just how thankful she had become for things she had once taken so for granted.

How convicting was how little thought she had given to the value of a tank of gas, especially now that her youngest son’s medical condition required trips to a specialist 50 miles away. The need now was not for “a fun day of shopping” but quality of life for her child.

Help Network News, Volume 1, Issue 1 aptly describes Help Network, Inc. The organization was established in March of 1992 by the collaborative efforts of the Salvation Army, Junior Auxiliary and grants from the Episcopal Diocese and the River Valley United Way.

It is described as a local, non-profit organization dedicated to serving the community as a centralized location for the distribution of benevolence funds and social aid information to needy individuals and families of the River Valley. With the cooperation of our partners, HNI provides non-duplicated, emergency services to the low-income and transient populations of Pope, Johnson, and Yell counties.”

Since first beginning work as administrative assistant to the Director of Help Network Inc., Linda West has heard this story and countless variations of it. As she stepped into this new job in 2003, little did she know that the mantle of Director for this United Way Agency would be offered and passed on to her in July of 2007.

As the wife of a retired Baptist minister, Linda encounters a different dimension of human need than that of her husband’s life calling. Physical needs dominate the requests that the Help Network receives 5 days a week, Monday through Friday.

With the help of her administrative assistant, Meme Pitney, a board of directors, financial donors, and caring and dedicated volunteers, Help Network, Inc. offers assistance to those who find themselves facing emergency or emergency crisis situations.

Linda, and each director who came before her, has taken on the compassionate, yet challenging and often difficult responsibility of reviewing each application and speaking confidentially with each “client” to assess need and the Network’s available resources to meet that need(s).

The client interview, their current emergent situation, as well as their financial resources are all taken into consideration in discerning whether HNI can offer help to the family or individual seeking aid. With HNI there is no “waiting game”.

Once the application is filled out, the interview completed, and required documentation supplied by the applicant (proof of income, valid driver’s license or picture ID for any adults in the household, and Social Security cards for everyone in the household) the Director will render a decision immediately, barring any missing information. Unique among other organizations offering financial assistance, Help Network is not based on standardized income.

While personal situations vary widely, some of the established Programs that HNI assists with on a regular basis include:

• Utility Payment Assistance

• Rental/Mortgage Payment Assistance

• Medical/Prescription Medication Payment Assistance

• Emergency Lodging Assistance

• Travel Assistance for doctor’s appointments and job searches

• Screening agent for the Lion’s Club local Sight Program (specific income guidelines apply.)

Those finding their way to the Help Network have often visited an area church seeking assistance or been referred by other area organizations unable to meet a particular need: ARVAC, Inc. (Arkansas River Valley Area Council, Inc.,) Battered Women’s Shelter, Main Street Mission, Salvation Army, and Samaritan Outreach (Dardanelle) to name a few. The communication between these “agencies of mercy” is not limited only to client referrals.

As Linda shared, she feels that her responsibilities as director for HNI don’t extend only to those seeking help. The caring and compassionate donors who entrust funds to Help Network deserve a conscientious sentinel who will use wisdom and prudence in dispensing these funds to see that they are “as helpful as possible”.

In fulfilling this role, Linda explained that area organizations communicate regularly to ensure that there is no duplication of services. Clients and the services provided to them are documented to guard against abuse of the good will of these organizations.

This documentation is also required when applying for yearly funding from agencies, such as the River Valley United Way, which offer financial awards to non- profit organizations. Linda considers responsibility to donors, as well as clients, an important part of her job.

Help Network is most often associated with financial assistance, but the many who have been blessed by this helpful organization well know that finances are but one dimension of what they offer.

First as acquaintances, and not long after as neighbors, long-time friends Jeff Grace and Russ Terwilliger shared a heart- felt common interest in helping to serve their church and Russellville communities with their skills and enjoyment of “light home repair.” Jeff and Russ found Help Network a worthy and fitting recipient of their volunteer time.

In 2004, as volunteers and then elected to serve on the Board for HNI, Jeff and Russ gave a name to these practical services: Serving Hands. Embraced by Help Network, Inc., they are now an integral contributor to the services offered. For the protection of both the organization and its clients, Serving Hands is covered by insurance carried by HNI.

While headquartered and insured by HNI, funds received specifically for Serving Hands are kept separately and used only for clients needing the special services they offer. Jeff explained that the cost incurred for these much needed home repairs are for materials only, with labor donated by Russ, Jeff and their dedicated band of volunteers.

Remembering their first project as Serving Hands through Help Network, Jeff recalled that it was a water project, an appropriate “baptism” into the organization. Leaking within the walls of this client’s home for over a year, Jeff and Russ took on the task of repairing two pipes which were causing the problem.

Not having the skill or finances to make the necessary repairs, this family made a daily routine of turning on their water for showers, filling their sinks, and flushing their toilets only to shut the water off until the next day to avoid continued damage to the structure of their home.

Not only did Serving Hands fill a physical need for this family, but one could safely assume that mental and spiritual needs were also met in relieving the stress that the situation brought. “Quality of Life” projects are the way Russ and Jeff like to describe the services that they volunteer.

Upon “Special Request” Russ and Jeff often pray with their clients. Many of the referrals received by Help Network, which are then passed on to Serving Hands, come from The Area Agency on Aging or The Health Department’s Home Health Care Unit.

Serving Hands has considered, and hopes to offer, a “Sponsorship” of individual home repair projects which have been requested but for which the funding is not readily available.

With labor often the more costly part of home repair projects, Serving Hands, with their generous volunteer work, removes that expense from the equation using the donated funds for materials only.

Being there for those in need has become increasingly difficult. Help Network, Inc., like many charitable organizations in our unsteady economy, has experienced shortages in contributions upon which they could once count.

The month of August was a disappointing reminder of HNI’s challenged finances. With two days remaining in the month and their funds depleted, the office door was locked and a note of apology posted asking clients to return on September 1 when more monies would be available.

Auditing costs are also a regular expense to insure that requirements are met to be eligible for awards from funding organizations.

Those who know of Help Network, Inc. often direct family, friends, acquaintances and, many times, strangers to the office of HNI. Yet, many aren’t mindful of the need to help fund these services.

Donations from local churches, businesses, individuals and charitable funding organizations such as River Valley United Way, and Junior Auxiliary, along with grants from Corporate Sponsors such as Walmart and Entergy comprise their financial base.

But even Corporate Sponsorship is unable to be as generous as it might have been in the past. An occasional fund-raiser adds to the coffers. “Miracle donations” are rare but always welcome. Even the smallest financial donations are accepted and greatly appreciated.

In sharing time with Linda, Jeff and Russ I couldn’t help but be reminded of life’s little blessings and how very crucial they become in times of dire need.

For those of us who, thus far, have the blessing of minor struggles I can’t help but call to mind the ending of almost every prayer that I recollect in my childhood home: “…and please bless those less fortunate than us.”

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