During a time when finances are tough for so many, it is easy to forget about the community's senior citizens who are forced to make tough decisions due to limited incomes.
"A lot of residents are having a hard time trying to survive everyday life," said Marcia Zyla, a resident of the Grundy County Housing Authority's Mazon Park Place. "With the changes with prescription programs, they all started panicking and looking for other ways to get them filled, and some are literally doing without."
Many local seniors are having to choose between paying bills or getting their medications. The average income of the housing authority residents is $12,000 a year, and the average rent is $281 a month.
The GCHA provides housing for 160 low-income elderly people and residents with disabilities in three locations in the county. Rent for the housing is decided based on the income of each resident.
In addition to the personal challenges its residents are enduring, the Grundy County Housing Authority's is experiencing its own economic hardships. From 2009 to 2011, 29 percent of all federal funding was cut, said Brent Newman, CEO of the GCHA.
To accommodate in the last year, Newman said the GCHA has cut employee retirement benefits, residential services, employee health insurance, and staff and board education and training.
Because of these challenges, the Grundy County Housing Authority has started multiple programs to provide opportunities for community members and businesses to give back to local seniors.
"We want to help our residents and be able to provide them with safe and affordable housing because our funding has been cut," said Jennifer Olson, vice president of development for the housing authority. "Awareness is a big deal. We wanted the programs to be for someone who doesn't have a lot but wants to help to the corporations who have $5,000 to donate."
"We wanted to reach a lot of people who can help, from kids to whomever," she said,
The programs, which officially started rolling out in August, offer numerous ways to help — from monthly donations to spending an afternoon with housing authority residents.
The "Sponsor a Resident" program allows for an individual or business to provide a monthly donation to help with needs of residents. The monthly donation will depend on the sponsor, said Olson.
"They can help with an Internet bill, phone bill, or rent. It doesn't have to be the full amount. We're trying to get enough to help all the residents in some way," she said.
The housing authority is asking for a one-year commitment with the "Sponsor a Resident" program.
Local Re/Max realtor JoAnne Gretencord has signed up to help two residents with rent payments every month. In addition, she has teamed up with the Morris Dairy Queen to provide an ice cream social at Saratoga Tower monthly. This is through the "Sponsor an Ice Cream Social" program.
"I feel I have been really lucky in my life, and I feel this is such a good cause to help people. They worked hard all their life and, hopefully, if I need it one day, someone will be there for me. I can cut down on a few things to help them," Gretencord said.
"It's sad when our senior citizens don't have the funds to live a good life, so anything I can do to help, I want to do."
Sponsoring an ice cream social or other social event, such as bingo or a game night — or just bringing in coffee and cookies — can be just as important as donating monetarily.
"Anything to kind of bring people out of their apartments," said Marge Ferguson, a Saratoga Tower resident and housing authority board member. "(We need more activities) to make them feel welcome."
Other opportunities to help include teaching a class or sponsoring a family fun day, holiday dinner or other special event you come up with.
The housing authority is also in major need of assistance with turning over their apartments to get them ready for incoming residents when tenants leave.
They GCHA created a "Sponsor an Apartment" or "Home Makers Program" where a person, business or group provides $500 to $1,000 and volunteers to rehab a vacant apartment. They have 10 days to clean, paint and turn over the place, Olson said.
"(The Department of Housing and Urban Development) only allows us 20 days, so it's important we have help with the rooms because maintenance doesn't always have time to do it," she said.
Once the apartment is completed, a plaque with the name of the sponsor will be put outside the room. So far, Rezin Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Re/Max, and Katfish Entertainment have all signed up to be Home Makers.
Re/Max also is funding the construction of a shed for the GCHA at a cost of $1,500. Greg Muffler of Muffler Concrete poured the concrete as a donation and Grundy Redi-Mix donated the concrete.
Other local businesses and groups have stepped forward to help. The Quality Inn and Sam's Pizza in Morris have committed to sponsoring a pizza party once a month for a year. First Midwest Bank also contributed a large donation of $3,000.
Dave McClintock and the Three Rivers Association of Realtors donated $1,000 toward the purchase of a washer and dryer, as well as giving $1,200 for emergency money to give to residents when they are in need. Residents will go through an application process for emergency money, which will be decided on by an advisory committee, Olson said.
TIME AND TALENTS
Providing assistance to the elderly does not have to come in the form of money. Donating your time is equally important.
"Basically anything you can do at home, you can do here," Newman said of the GCHA's facilities. "It's a home, just like your home."
"We always need help with the outside of the building — cutting grass, pulling weeds, shoveling snow in the winter . . . you can play board games with the residents, bring in a small craft, or do nothing at all and just talk with them for a couple of hours," Olson added.
No matter the form of the donation, the volunteers and donors become a part of the S.T.A.R.S. (Supporting Timely Affordable Responsible Shelter) Investors Club.
People who donate $500 or under become Bronze members and receive a certificate. If they donate $500 to $1,000, they are Silver members and receive a certificate and are able to display their business brochures at the housing authority. Gold members are those who donate more $1,000 to $5,000. They receive the same as the other members, as well as getting their logo and link on the GCHA website, an invitation to family day, and an invitation to the appreciation event.
The last member category is the Platinum level, which is for those who donate over $5,000. In addition to all the other benefits, they also get a recognition plaque at the GCHA location of their choice.
"We want it to be a good investment for us, but also for the businesses," Olson said.
The most recent Platinum member is AkzoNobel, which in October had employees volunteer to take out all of Saratoga Tower's carpet and replace it. The company purchased $16,00 worth of carpet and had about 11 employees volunteer to put it in.
The project is part of AkzoNobel's community program that is budgeted every year, said Karen Bonnar, human resource specialist.
"We carefully select projects we want to do and Saratoga Tower is certainly at the top," she said.
AkzoNobel's loyal support is overwhelming, said Olson.
"We could never, ever afford to do this," she said.
The Price family of Morris was one of the first families to sign up to participate in the programs.
"As a family, we are always looking for ways to volunteer through different programs and give back to the community," Jennifer Price said. "This is something really great for our family and friends to take part in, too."
The Prices are going to adopt a resident and do some social activities, as well, she said, because it's not just about making a donation, it's about spending time.
"Something I grew up doing with my family is always being active in the community and it is something that made a great impact on my life and I think it is absolutely necessary to teach to my children to appreciate what they have and to be compassionate to other individuals," Price said.
The GCHA has three locations: Saratoga Tower in Morris, Mazon Park Place in Mazon, and Gardner Village Commons in Gardner.
For more information on helping Grundy County Housing Authority residents visit gcha.us/donate or call (815) 942-6198.