Remember toilet paper shortages? We knew even then that we’d look back and laugh at the absurdity. And we all had That Friend. The expert who could tell us where to buy toilet paper or even cans of Lysol. And remember that first day when those of a certain age could register for the vaccine on the county website between 2pm and 7pm? Waiting for our cursor to stop circling was not at all funny as we desperately tried to get an appointment for ourselves or a loved one. Now, those same friends were self-proclaimed Vaccine Appointment Experts. Instead of choosing the most popular nearby vaccine site, select the one in Plant City! Bam! Vaccine appointment set.
How lucky we were to have these friends who kept abreast of the essential resources we all needed and took great pleasure in guiding us to them!
Now as more of us get vaccinated, it feels like normal life is right around the corner. Although many can see the light at the end of the tunnel, Dr. Dan Culver at Cleveland Clinic notes that for many others, “there’s still an awful lot of tunnel left.” For numerous people just like us, the vaccine doesn’t provide a “quick fix”. We know them. They are the friendly grocery store cashier, our grandchild’s pre-school teacher, our newly unemployed next-door neighbor – struggling to make ends meet for the first time in their lives through no fault of their own. They now need that friendly expert who can help connect them with essential resources that every one of us depends on for good health: nutritious food, safe housing, essential medical care, economic opportunity, and most importantly, hope.
Well before COVID-19, Katrina Osborne had been serving as that friendly expert to the countless people she’s met as director of Pearlena’s Adult Activity Center, named in memory of her beloved grandmother whose compassionate heart and spirit inspired her to help other seniors enjoy life to its fullest. This desire to serve others drove her to rally a small team of Resource Advocates dedicated to helping people find solutions to change their lives.
When they learned about someone who’d fallen on hard times, they helped find affordable housing. When they learned that someone didn’t have access to nutritious food, they got them enrolled for food stamps. When they learned that an elderly client couldn’t afford his property taxes, they not only helped him arrange for a payment plan, but also dug deep to find the root cause, engaging a pro bono attorney to unravel his reverse mortgage and arranging for reimbursement after he’d been overcharged for Medicare Part B.
“Time and again,” Katrina shared, “the people we helped were so appreciative, they asked us to teach them so they could help others.”
– Katrina Osborne, Resource Empowerment Center
Then COVID-19 hit, and Katrina’s small team was inundated with requests from people who were suddenly unemployed and, for the first time, desperately needed help. She reincorporated as a new nonprofit, The Resource Empowerment Center, with the mission to Connect, Transform and Empower Communities, and reached out to Seniors in Service of Tampa Bay, a nonprofit well-known for engaging volunteers to serve our community’s most vulnerable. Seniors in Service CEO Robin Ingles immediately saw the benefits, stating:
“Together, we are collaborating to mobilize an army of Resource Advocates – volunteers who are trained to help people navigate and receive the essential resources needed to get back on their feet.”
– Robin Ingles, Seniors in Service
Imagine a woman. A devoted mother with a prestigious career.
A dedicated employee for over 15 years with the same Fortune-500 company. As a single mom, she finds joy in being a strong role-model to her 2 teenaged daughters. Her solid, middle-class upbringing continues to guide her, even years after her parents’ passing. With over 6 months of living expenses saved for a rainy day, she’s all set to take on the predictable challenges of everyday life. Until the coronavirus hits. Her company attributes massive layoffs to the global pandemic.
In an instant, she’s lost her income, health insurance and professional identity.
Still, she’s a woman of action. She overcomes absurd hurdles applying for unemployment, receives notification that benefits are approved yet never receives a dime. She repeatedly gets put on hold or disconnected when she calls to find out why. She seeks new employment while overseeing her daughters’ digital learning. Her 6-months of savings quickly evaporates.
We know her. Her name is Annie.
When she reaches out to The Resource Empowerment Centre, Katrina finds her living in a hotel and on donated meals. “Annie never received any of the $11,000 in unemployment checks that were reportedly mailed to her,” Katrina explains, “I’d seen this before and knew what to do.” Katrina also finds Annie and her daughters temporary safe housing, helps them apply for food and medical benefits, and connects Annie with opportunities for employment. Most importantly, she follows up to make sure that this time, the benefits are received. Back on her feet, Annie volunteers as a Resource Advocate so she can help others just like her.
Deep down we all know. This can happen to us. But maybe if we divert our eyes, it won’t. After all, we’ve done everything right. Yet as baseball’s Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” No, none of us are immune.
COVID-19 showed us how our own health is inextricably intertwined with the health of everyone else in our community.
After all, wearing masks was not just for our own personal safety but to protect others who may be more vulnerable. It’s evident that others will still need our protection during the pandemic and beyond. It’s up to each of us to help shape our new normal.
We are all Resource Advocates at heart.
Just an hour of time per month is all it takes to help someone find a way past unimaginable challenges, relying on the resourcefulness within each of us. Because nobody is immune.
BECOME A RESOURCE ADVOCATE!
WHAT: Seniors in Service of Tampa Bay
WHO: Caring adult volunteers are trained as Resource Advocates to help people access the resources they need to live healthy, productive lives.
REQUIREMENTS: Able to communicate by phone, email and/or video-calling platforms such as Zoom. Ability to read/write English. Spanish a plus! Subject to background check.
COMMITMENT: Flexible to meet your schedule. Just 1 or more hours per month.
For more information, visit https://seniorsinservice.org/ or call
Chris Noble at 813-492-8916
Visit us on Facebook https://facebook.com/seniorsinservice
For more information, visit www.seniorsinservice.org