Thursday, January 10, 2008

Donation Keeps Oak Tree House Open

Toni Ann Robinson and volunteer Mary Lou Potter share a joke during snack time at the Oak Tree House
Photo by Rob Clement

By Sondra Murphy
Celebrating 40 years of community service with budget cuts is not the way Help of Ojai’s executive director J.R. Jones wanted to start off the new year. Since last week’s announcement of the closure of Oak Tree House, the adult day activity facility at the West Santa Ana Street site, Jones has gotten a bit of good news.
An anonymous donation has been received toward paying rent on the Fox Street Community Assistance Program office and local churches are indicating support to use the site for at least another six months. Instead of moving C.A.P. to Santa Ana Street, as planned, Oak Tree House will remain open for the time being and continue services to its seniors and their caregivers. “The families were devastated by the closure,” said Jones. “This gives us a little reprieve.”
There are 14 people currently enrolled in Oak Tree House. The program runs four days a week to assist family caregivers in offering enriching activities for their loved ones. After meeting with families impacted by the decision to close the facility, Jones was happy to have more time to come up with a plan to keep the center open. “The response was overwhelmingly positive,” said Jones.
Bob Unruhe is one Ojai local who uses Oak Tree House two days a week for his wife, who is in her fifth year of Alzheimer’s. “The main benefit is she is one of a group of seniors, all of whom have similar problems, and I find she responds in group situations better than in one-on-one situations,” said Unruhe. He added that Help’s highly trained staff provides challenging activities, plus two snacks and lunch for $40 a day. “It’s a real bargain,” Unruhe said. “I understand they don’t turn anyone away for financial reasons.”
Jones said that they must re-examine OTH’s fees and may need to increase them in order to keep the center self-sustaining. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, work-wise,” Jones said. “It’s not like your average business where you go home at 5 and can forget about work for the night. I wake up at 3 a.m. worrying about the people using these programs.”
Jackie Curry takes her husband, Ken, to Oak Tree House four days a week and said she doesn’t know what she would do without the program. “My husband has dementia. He requires special care so it’s made a big difference in his life,” said Curry. “Before, he was just sitting around, sleeping a lot, drinking coffee and watching TV.”
Curry said the activities and socialization her husband receives are helpful on many levels. She said that Oak Tree House provides priceless time to take care of details or just unwind and focus on other concerns. This allows caregivers to avoid the burnout that often accompanies a round-the-clock charge. “It’s nice to do the laundry or mundane things, like go to the store, and not have in the back of my mind the worries about him,” said Curry.
“I’m dedicated to him. It’s my privilege to take care of him. He’s a wonderful husband. But he’s happier and more content after being with other people.”
Lois Recksiek lives with her granddaughter, Susan Shrum, and family. Recksiek goes to Oak Tree House one day a week. “She’s blind and on oxygen 24-7,” said Shrum. “It’s kind of interesting that they can accommodate her.” Shrum said that her grandmother takes the bus to Help and is met by staff to accompany Recksiek to the center. “Even though she’s blind, they include her in everything they do,” Shrum said. “When she comes home, her mood is improved. If they were to close this program, she would go downhill.”
Her grandmother’s time at the center allows Shrum to work full time as a nurse and attend to other tasks. “Today I went to the DMV and made cookies so my grandmother can have a treat when she gets home.”
“While the center may not seem to benefit many people, indirectly it does by impacting the caregivers,” said Unruhe. “I want to keep my wife home as long as possible and Oak Tree House is part of that plan. As far as moving the program out to the old Honor Farm, I feel that would be a mistake. This facility has a nice, warm, friendly environment and you can’t redesign a cell block to have a nice environment.”
Donna Spurgeon has used the center for her mother, Peggy Boyd. “It has given her so much stimulation in her life. It’s more than a program; it’s a loving, caring helpful program. They are, literally, my sanity,” said Spurgeon. “It’s more than a job for the girls. There is genuine love. I invite anyone to go by and see the love and caring and smiles on these people’s faces at the Oak Tree House. It’s what this whole world needs to be like.”
Curry was also enthusiastic about the staff of Oak Tree House. “We’re really blessed to have Barbara Mark and her staff, Emily and Patricia. You can’t believe the compassion they have.” Curry said that the education provided by Eleanor Land for caregivers has been a great coping mechanism for her. She feels that the challenges the agency faces will be conquered. “It’s going to bring everyone together,” said Curry.
Jones acknowledged the endeavor will not be easy. “Morale is very low,” he said. “People, like our ‘lunch bunch,’ are scared. I can’t tell you how much this means to the community.”
According to Jones, the organization receives just 20 percent of its funding from government sources. He said that Help plans an aggressive grant-writing campaign to try to remedy the situation, but that community support is imperative to keeping the nonprofit agency fiscally sound. Besides activities at Little House and Oak Tree House, Help runs local programs like C.A.P., hospice, home-delivered meals for homebound seniors, bereavement counseling for youth, and transportation through volunteer assistance which are funded primarily through individual and community donations.
“Our thinking is that people aren’t really aware of all the different programs we offer,” said Jones. He hopes that, if the community understands the impact Help of Ojai has on the community, it will inspire more people to donate to the organization.
For more information about donating to Help of Ojai, call 646-5122. Donations may be mailed to Help of Ojai, P.O. Box 621, Ojai, CA 93024. Donors may designate a specific program they wish to support.


Anonymous said...

This is great news. Let's hope that every penny of the money stays at Oak Tree House where it belongs.

Anonymous said...

This is great news for the families of Oak Tree House, at least for the time being. Hopefully, HELP of Ojai will reconsider laying of the Director of the program, Barbara Mark, under whose strong leadership Oak Tree House has thrived.