West Philadelphia Senior Community Center’s In-Home Support Program is an initiative that helps homebound seniors—either because of illness, disability, or extreme weather—to regain control of their lives, maintain their independence, and remain safely in their homes. 

As part of Liberty Lutheran’s A Day in the Life series, Andragina and Wanda share how they travel the neighborhoods of West Philadelphia to bring hope, fellowship, and safety to homebound seniors—many of whom might face dire conditions without their care and support.  In their own words, here are some of the joys and challenges Andragina and Wanda find along the road.

This is the first time I’ve ever worked with seniors. My inspiration to do this work came from a scary situation I had with my elderly aunt who is very dear to me.  My brother and I went over to her home for our usual Sunday visit and discovered she had suffered a fall four days earlier. She was virtually helpless for four days! That just horrified me and made me realize there needs to be more people to be able to check on our seniors, especially those who don’t have anyone. I kept thinking suppose no one went to see her—that was a defining moment for me.

I am passionate about what I do. I get up with such zeal because I feel like somebody is going to get blessed today that may have been feeling hopeless. While they think I may just be setting them up for home-delivered meals or transportation, I may notice they don’t have gas or running water, or they have a leak from a ceiling that’s going to fall down. When I point it out they usually respond by saying something like “there’s nothing I can do—I can barely afford my medication.”  They’re not even thinking of getting help for the lack of utilities or the structural disrepair in their home, but I have the resources to help this situation and then they get so excited. I get so filled up when somebody gets a blessing like this. It’s like Christmas for them!

For instance, I was helping a woman who was a very responsible person but had fallen behind in her bills due to depression from grieving the loss of her daughter and son. She didn’t have any heat in her house so I was able to refer her to a resource that would come and give her a heater. Also, she was so afraid to be without medical insurance, which cost more than $500. I talked to my supervisor and we were able to pay that for her. Additionally, at one point she called me and said she hadn’t eaten for a couple of days. I can’t imagine how it feels to be hungry—I was beside myself. My coworkers saw how filled up I was and started gathering all types of resources so that I could get food and necessities to her. The teamwork was so awesome that I was able to purchase food and provide her with groceries and other nutritional items. As we sat and talked she began to cry because she was so deeply moved by our outreach and concern. This is what I mean when I say somebody is going to get Christmas today—it’s what we do!

A lot of the seniors we serve are blind. Quite a few have been exploited in some way and many are truly lonely because they are separated from family or have no family. We also encounter older adults who may have limited mobility, take multiple medications, need dialysis three times a week, or have mental health issues.

Despite these circumstances, many of the older adults we serve are so grateful for the smallest thing we can give them. Recently, I was able to provide for one of the seniors in my care a nutritional supplement that she had been awaiting for a couple of months. She was so very thankful.  We’re able to visit someone and provide for them some of the small things we take for granted that they don’t have. As Wanda says, it’s like Christmas for them.

Like when I was working with an older woman whose eyesight and legs have been failing. She has steps and couldn’t get outside and really wanted the pleasure of once again being in her garden. We were able to get contractors to build her ramps and give her a sense of independence.

I’m also reminded of another woman I was helping who needed extermination for mice, roaches, and bedbugs. She was horribly dismayed about her situation because she had always kept a clean house. But, the problem was stemming from the two vacant houses on either side of her that were overrun with pests. I didn’t even pull off her block before I was on the phone with our extermination service. In the end, we were able to get her place exterminated and some of the clutter under control. Now her whole spirit is totally different—she is just so happy.

I love feeling like somebody is going to get Christmas today and being able to make that happen! When we visit a senior we ask them what we can do that would make them more comfortable in their home. We let them know we can provide meals if it’s difficult for them to cook. Or sometimes, someone may be challenged by getting back and forth to the doctors because it costs $4.50 one way to go by paratransit, which is a lot for a senior who’s on a restricted income—but we come in and say you don’t have to bear the burden of payment because we can help you. We can help to obtain a household cleaning service, take care of a shutoff notice, or even provide funds that may be needed for movers if a senior is relocating to another address.

The difficult aspect of  our job is to visit a senior who doesn’t have the basics of food or they don’t have family or support systems or no one really comes in to see them…and  of course when they pass that’s devastating to all of us because we know them and have worked with them.

For me, a difficult aspect of the job is that I want to be effective and impactful when I go to an older adult’s home but it can sometimes be so overwhelmingly. Sometimes people have extreme clutter or they’re in situations where they’re being neglected in their home. If someone needs to leave their home it’s usually because of structural deficiencies…it’s hard because many have been in their home more than 50 years but the conditions may be so deteriorated that they need to get out for their own safety.

I once visited an older woman in her home who clearly needed to move. I knew she could quickly qualify for senior housing because of her situation. But, this woman just didn’t want to leave. She said she had an application in with the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation. Fortunately, because of that, I was able to get PHDC to expedite repairs for her home and also get her windows fixed. She was so elated. Afterward, she sent me a modest box with a pair of white gloves, a pair of stockings, and a card. I’ve kept all of those items because you could tell that was all she had but it was her way of thanking me.

None of what we do would be possible without the help and support of our director, supervisors, and our colleagues on the IHSP team—all whom empower and support us in providing the best care to those we serve. Liberty is truly a family that is concerned about us as employees and not just production and paperwork.

The care and comfort that Andragina, Wanda and their co-workers provide for homebound seniors in Philadelphia is invaluable. Their commitment is a shining example of The Liberty Way. If you know of someone who can benefit from our In-Home Support Program, please visit click here.

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