From left to right: Plateau Outreach Ministries Director Elaine Olson, Outreach Case Manager for Veterans and Seniors Lisa Napolitano, and Director Elisha Smith-Marshall stand outside of their nonprofit’s office. The trio work together regularly to help lift up the vulnerable populations in Enumclaw, Black Diamond and Covington.
                                Photo by Danielle Chastaine

From left to right: Plateau Outreach Ministries Director Elaine Olson, Outreach Case Manager for Veterans and Seniors Lisa Napolitano, and Director Elisha Smith-Marshall stand outside of their nonprofit’s office. The trio work together regularly to help lift up the vulnerable populations in Enumclaw, Black Diamond and Covington. Photo by Danielle Chastaine

A mighty team of three help local vets and seniors

Plateau Outreach Ministries works with the county to repair vulnerable homes

You may not notice it when driving down Cole Street in downtown Enumclaw, but the quaint, aged office for Plateau Outreach Ministries contains a lot of fresh starts and opportunities.

A trio of women, and a number of volunteers, spend time each week in the office offering the vulnerable populations around the Plateau emergency and financial assistance, extended services and a walk-in food bank. Director Elisha Smith-Marshall, Veterans and Seniors Outreach Case Manager Lisa Napolitano and Director Elaine Olson spend each day trying to keep their communities afloat.

“We have our Samaritan services, which is the umbrella of our services,” Smith-Marshall said. “We have one-time assistance for people who need help with something like rent or their utility bill. We have services for those who need a bit extra financially and with case management, and we have ‘Turning Point’ which is our longest program for those who are ready to make a commitment to change and the ability to have an upside of income, or maybe are going to school.”

Plateau Outreach Ministries is supported by 17 different churches from Covington, Black Diamond, Enumclaw and other Plateau cities. Now the trio is offering more assistance to seniors and veterans finding themselves dealing with too-costly of home repairs.

“The programs provided are not part of our program but we are helping with the application process,” Smith-Marshall said. “We got funding from the Veteran Senior Housing Levy through King County to help veterans and seniors with ‘inappropriate housing loss.’ We want to find a way to help them stay in their homes while using all the resources we can gather.”

Seniors and veterans make up a big portion of those who come in seeking help at Plateau Outreach Ministries.

“We are getting more veterans through outreach. King County’s main focus was veterans and seniors. Next year they added just the term ‘vulnerable populations’, which covers our clients as a whole,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano is the main contact for seniors and veterans looking for help with housing repairs or adjustments. If, for example, a Vietnam veteran started having a bad leak in his roof, but his retirement or Social Security funds could not cover the cost, he could reach out to Napolitano for assistance.

“That’s when they call me,” she said. “So if they had a leak in the roof, there are several different programs based on income. If they are lower income, they would be eligible for a repair program for no cost. If they are higher than that income there is a King County repair loan program. It is 0 percent interest and goes up to $25,000, and it is never paid back until the home is sold. That’s for veterans and seniors.”

The paperwork for these programs, along with researching the information on eligibility, can be daunting for vulnerable groups. This is the first year Plateau Outreach Ministries has received the grant to help these groups with the paperwork, and in the short time since the trio started this work they have realized how great of a need is in their community.

“It’s nice to be able to have a staffer that can focus directly on that to help,” Olson said. “The paperwork for those programs are overwhelming. So to have someone who can walk you through it, and then advocate for you once the paperwork is submitted, that’s great.”

“The biggest impact is that, you hear about us and you come in for services,” Smith-Marshall said. “But this allowed us to send Lisa out to the senior centers and really reach out and touch those who need us. Because, especially with the senior population, there is a sense of pride and it’s difficult for them to come in and ask for help. We give them the sense that it’s OK.”

The trio has seen an increase in the number of people they have served, which has spread the word about Plateau Outreach Ministries’ thrift store and food bank.

“There are several seniors and veterans who don’t drive, and if they do they don’t want to go as far as Enumclaw,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano remembers a senior couple who came in looking for help, since they were in immediate danger of losing their home. The couple were renting a mobile home in a park, when the rent was raised by a large amount.

“They had lived there 30 years,” she said. “And some trees had fallen down (on the roof), but the landlord didn’t want to take care of it and the owner of the mobile home didn’t want to take care of it.”

Napolitano advocated for their case to help mediate the issue.

“And bam, bam, in a couple of days the landlords were hauling the trees off and they made plans to fix the roof,” Napolitano said.

But the story didn’t end there.

The husband used a walker and was losing weight due to the stress over his roof. The couple was also isolated, with little family around to help.

“Well, thanks to my work, King County was out there right away,” Napolitano said. “We called, filled out the application and got on the phone … (King County) was then out there in three days. They removed the bathtub because it was so small the husband couldn’t take a shower. They were going to put a ramp but the husband didn’t want to see a ramp, so they may be modifying the stairs. But the best part for me in the entire scenario, I met them three times at the Black Diamond Senior Center … The husband didn’t want anything to do with anyone but by the third time I was there he said he wanted to skip our meeting because he wanted to go to the senior center to see some people.”

Breaking through isolation is a common theme in the ladies’ stories.

“Helping them with their homes entirely changes their personalities,” Napolitano said.

Olson believes there are more people, not just veterans or seniors, who are in need of these home repair services but who don’t know what resources are out there.

“Not everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do what you or I can do,” she said. “They have literally never learned or have been given the tools to do that. This helps these populations learn how to work for themselves.”

Anyone who is interested in finding out more about services for themselves or a loved one can visit www.plateauoutreach.org.

Donations and fundraising is another great way to support their work. The nonprofit is hosting its yearly dinner and auction fundraiser from 6 -9 p.m. on Sept. 28. The dinner is superhero themed and tickets cost $20 per person or $120 for an eight-seat table.

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