Changed lives. Resilient communities. The social impact of LifeSTEPS services is immense. Read more here in our most recent annual report: 2017 LifeSTEPS Annual Report
LifeSTEPS Helps Couple Gain Financial Stability
When retired seniors, John and Victoria* moved to El Palmar last year, they thought that they were finally taking the right steps toward financial stability.
They had relocated from Salinas, CA due to the area’s rising costs that took up a majority of the Social Security payments they were both dependent on. After living in El Palmar, the married couple was finally able to pay for all of their basic necessities with some funds left to spare. Learning from their financial struggle in Salinas, Victoria made sure that anything left over was put into a savings account.
All of that changed the morning that John woke up with a throbbing foot. Because he was unable to walk, Victoria drove him to the emergency room only to learn that the diabetes he had been dealing with was the cause of the pain. After being examined, John was told that his toe needed to be amputated, which required surgery and a three-day hospital stay.
Not having any choice, John underwent the required surgery. After three days of recovery, he was finally allowed to go home. Already coming to grips with the cost of his hospitalization, John was told that in order to fully recover, he needed to visit his doctor twice a week for the next month. With his doctor’s office being located 38 miles away from where they live, the couple was forced to use all of their savings, which only covered a portion of their hospital bills with nothing left over for travel expenses or medications.
Not only worried about the financial crisis they were unexpectedly dealing with, Victoria also had to worry about caring for John’s health and recovery. Beginning to panic, Victoria called their Director of Social Services, Judith, not knowing what else to do. Judith immediately began looking for resources and helped them apply for rental assistance through LifeSTEPS’ client assistance program, which they were awarded. Judith was also able to refer them to other resources such as PG&E’s CARE program, as well as California’s LifeLine, helping them with their monthly cell phone bill.
Victoria has also begun attending LifeSTEPS’ health classes, as well as financial workshops to learn how to better manage their monthly expenses. Because of Judith and the help of LifeSTEPS, the couple is now on the right track to reaching financial stability. “When we needed help the most, Judith was there. The programs being offered by LifeSTEPS have helped us financially as well as emotionally. Thank you for being there for us,” says John.
With their situation improving every day, the couple can now focus on John’s full recovery.
*names have been changed
Community Love That Heals
Every once in a while something happens in life that could be considered miraculous. We often read about miraculous healing on social media or hear about it on TV — but when did you hear about a community of neighbors who help bring an elderly man back from near death?
Mr. Duong had a stroke in October 2016 and it left him unable to eat solid food, walk, stand up by himself, or take care of any of his own needs. After a long hospital stay, he grew weak and frail. His condition was deteriorating fast and so his doctors approved him to return home with hospice care. His family was told he would pass away in a short time. A few weeks or days were all they could hope for.
Mr. Duong was 92 years old then. He had lived a good long life. He had enjoyed his friends and neighbors at Lenzen Gardens in San Jose, and up until his stroke, Mr. Duong had been an active member of his community. He loved to come to LifeSTEPS events and potlucks. He was the resident who invited his neighbors to join him — and loved to document all the events with his professional-quality photographs. He even volunteered his time translating for other Vietnamese residents.
When Mr. Duong returned home with hospice he no longer remembered his friends and neighbors — he didn’t even recognize some of his own family. He didn’t remember Audrey either, the LifeSTEPS Director of Social Services (DSS) at Lenzen Gardens, but it didn’t stop her from reaching out to Mr. Duong and his family. She offered to rally his neighbors to come and visit him, to try and reconnect with Mr. Duong and bring comfort and companionship for the little time he had left.
Over the next month, his neighbors stopped by his apartment to visit. They talked to him and he listened, though he never spoke. Audrey also made home visits to check on his needs and offer emotional support.
His neighbors didn’t stop coming and they didn’t give up. Towards the middle of November, Mr. Duong smiled. Then he spoke. With each day that passed, he made more progress. He began to eat solid food, and his sense of humor returned. His neighbors helped him take short strolls outside — and eventually he started remembering people’s faces and names.
By the end of November Mr. Duong’s doctor took him off of hospice care. Instead, a plan for home health care was needed. Audrey referred him to Asian American Home Health to help assist with getting his services started.
Mr. Duong attended the Thanksgiving potluck just like he had done many times before. He was there smiling, telling jokes, and taking pictures. Audrey presented Mr. Duong with a Certificate of Appreciation from LifeSTEPS for his many years of service and community engagement. It was an emotional moment for everyone there. “If not for all of you here, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this potluck today,” Mr. Duong said in his acceptance speech.
For Audrey and everyone who supported Mr. Duong’s recovery, it was a powerful lesson in love, community, and life.
Even when he was “supposed to be” dying, Mr. Duong engaged his community; together, they helped him live.
Rental Assistance Helps Family Through Layoff
Art and Yolanda* live at Palm Communities Toscana Apartments in Fontana with their three year old daughter. Earlier this year the family received support from the LifeSTEPS Client Assistance Program when Art was laid off from his job at Toys R Us. Even prior to being laid off, the family was struggling financially due to Art receiving fewer and fewer hours.
The family feared losing their home when they were unable to pay the rent. They researched assistance from various outside sources to no avail. When they connected with the LifeSTEPS Director of Social Services they felt hopeless. They were relieved to learn that their situation qualified for rental assistance. Not only that, by reviewing their budget with LifeSTEPS they learned there were steps they could take that would empower them financially. They decided to cancel their internet and cable until they were truly able to afford them.
Since receiving assistance Art has been rehired by Toys R Us as a full time employee. Without financial intervention Art and Yolanda would have been at risk of homelessness. By working with LifeSTEPS and making a few changes they maintained housing during a difficult time and are better equipped to manage future financial challenges.
Helping Families Through Their Scariest Times
Pete, Joey, and Harrison — these bright and shiny faces reflect a carefree childhood now, but a few months back their parents were facing every family’s nightmare: cancer.
These darling boys live with their parents Tina and Dave in an affordable housing community in Woodland, CA. Tina is the primary income earner for the household, so as you can imagine when Tina’s doctor discovered a lump in her lymph nodes the possibility of cancer was terrifying. Also devastating was the realization that a long term illness would bankrupt the family’s finances and put them at risk of losing their home. It didn’t take long before Tina’s medical appointments and surgery led to a huge loss of wages and had them worried about how to put food on the table and keep up with their rent.
Asking for help isn’t easy and this family prides itself on being self-sufficient. At the time Tina didn’t yet know the results of her biopsy. This stress, coupled with the added financial worries was overwhelming. Tina and Dave reached out to their LifeSTEPS Director of Social Services for help; and fortunately, they were quickly approved for rental assistance through LifeSTEPS client assistance funds. This financial intervention provided the family with some much needed comfort. At least Tina and her husband knew during this difficult time that their children would continue to sleep, play and live in the only home they had known.
A short time later the family breathed a long sigh of relief… Tina’s test results came back negative for cancer. Today Tina’s health is restored, and the gratitude she and her husband feel for the help they received from the kindness of strangers is the only thing that overwhelms them.
Fighting for your life will take all your inner strength, all your energy, and will reach the depth of your faith. When Avenida Espana Gardens resident, Mr. Gon Tran was diagnosed with stomach cancer he and his wife put all this and more into winning this battle.
The stark reality of cancer is that the disease takes more than your health—it takes a toll on all your resources: your time, your relationships and especially on your income. Mr. Tran and his wife have a meager income, at best, on social security and with the added stress of paying for in home care after Mr. Tran’s stomach surgery this left the couple struggling to pay their rent. As residents of Avenida Espana Gardens for 10 years, the thought of losing their home and especially during this extremely difficult time was devastating.
When Audrey Bui, their LifeSTEPS Director of Social Services (DSS), heard about the hardship they were experiencing she immediately offered to help. Both Mr. Tran and his wife, Oanh, had been very active members of the Avenida Espana Gardens community. They helped at all the LifeSTEPS events and Mr, Tran has helped other residents as a translator for Vietnamese. The Tran’s were well acquainted with LifeSTEPS and our educational services; but they were still surprised to learn that their DSS was able to work with them on finding a solution for their financial difficulty as well.
Audrey met with Mrs. Tran and together they looked at the couple’s budget. There was little room for flexibility, but together they found small ways that the couple could cut their costs. Audrey assisted Mrs. Tran in applying for increased hours of In Home Support Services (IHSS) to help care for her husband. And Audrey suggested cutting their food costs by applying for a “Brown Bag” lunch program.
Audrey also suggested Mrs. Tran apply for a one time rental assistance through LifeSTEPS Craig’s Fund. Mr. and Mrs. Tran were approved for $400 to be paid toward their monthly rent. This was just what the Tran’s needed to see them through this temporary crisis. After a few weeks IHSS was all set up for Mr. Tran’s care and the couple’s finances were again back on track.
We are also very happy to report Mr. Tran is doing much better this last month. He is able to eat more and is getting around without help now. Most importantly, he has ongoing assistance from In Home Support Services and it does not coming out of their pocket. It is heartbreaking to see such special people, like the Tran’s, go through such hard times; however, at LifeSTEPS we are honored to be able to walk by their side—adding resources and strength where we can.
J.B. Brown Scholarships Change Lives!
We’re proud to highlight two of our recent graduates, who were able to complete their degrees thanks to scholarships from USA and the J.B. Brown scholarship fund.
Angelique Boyi, from Silverado Creek
Graduated from CSU, Sacramento
Angelique’s commitment to achieving her college degree was passed down from her parents at the earliest stages in her life through strong education centered values. Her parents encouraged her that a better life would come through education. However, for Angelique, the journey to get there was nearly impossible. First she escaped the horrors of violence in her home country of Rwanda and then after settling in the US, Angelique and her husband were consumed by the struggle to provide basic necessities for themselves and their two young sons. The financial burden of attending college was more than their income could bear.
Angelique describes the impact of receiving nine separate J.B. Brown Scholarship awards totaling $18,300 as “life changing”. “This scholarship gave me hope and opened a door that I thought had been closed for good. The journey I once thought was impossible changed to possible and now I see my dream being realized!”
Angelique received her BA degree this past spring in Health Science Occupational Therapy with a minor in Gerontology. Angelique is passionate about work place safety and enjoyed using her education in this area as an intern for LIfeSTEPS. She now hopes that this degree will allow her to find employment in a field where she can give back to help others. Through all her immense struggles she has discovered she is most fulfilled when she can pass on to others the blessings she has received. She now lives by these words, “To whom much is given, from him much is expected” Luke 12:48
Jeremy Lessnau, from Terracina at Santa Rosa
Graduated from UC Santa Cruz
Jeremy knows how to craft a great story. Jeremy earned his BA degree in Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing this past June and is looking forward to finding a full time position using his storytelling skills. His propensity for good comedy has also served him well writing for theater and as a freelance writer for The Bold Italic and Lakehouse Records. Jeremy has a great story to tell from his own life as a five time recipient of a JB Brown Scholarship award, totaling $26,678 in financial support!
Jeremy stands out among his peers as a rare example of someone who can graduate with zero student loans to pay back! He also credits his success to an amazing network of supportive mentors from his college years and following the mantra of one of his professors: “Try. Fail. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” No fail here… Jeremy is a JB Brown success story!
Unlocking the Stories of a Lifetime
Editor’s Note: Locked away in the hearts and minds of every senior are stories of their childhood, the adventures of their youth, their first love and heartbreak. The memories of our seniors encompass small bits of history –their history and also our history as a society. Their stories can bring to life what the younger generations learn from a history book. They help shape the context of war, conflict and the human struggle to survive.
LifeSTEPS educational classes are customized for the variety of low income housing communities that we serve. At Lenzen Gardens in San Jose, a senior community, our Director of Social Service recently facilitated a class on “Senior Stories”. Many times seniors who struggle to remember what day of the week it is will still have a sharp memory for the past events and times of their lives. At 84 years Mr. Hong Xian Huo, a resident at Lenzen Gardens and a frequent participate in LifeSTEPS classes, just needed a little encouragement to unlock a memory he had kept quiet since a young boy.
Mr Hong Xian Huo’s story was published in the World Journal in his native language of Chinese. Here is a short summary as interpreted by our staff.
Mr. Hong Xian Huo was only six years old when the Japanese invaded his home land in China. His family fled their small village to escape the Japanese soldiers and settled into the province of Bei Ping. Here in Bei Ping Mr. Hong Xian Huo began elementary school; but it wasn’t long before the invasion of China had reached Bei Ping as well. The school remained open, but now under the watchful eye and persuasion of their Japanese occupants. The students in Mr. Huo’s school were forced to learn the Japanese language and indoctrinated into the Japanese culture.
Another young man, Gong Guo Zheng Fu, actually just a teenager, had been sent from Japan to assist at this school. In his story Mr. Huo reflects on the unlikely friendship that grew between the Japanese teenager and himself. His Japanese friend confided in Mr. Hong Xian Huo that he missed his Japanese hometown very much and was lovesick for the girl he had left behind. He didn’t want to be in China any more than the Chinese citizens wanted them there; however, as a subject of the Emperor’s rule, his Japanese friend had to obey.
Reflecting back on this troubling time in his young life, Mr. Hong Huo mostly just remembers the humanity of the situation. The friendship he made with his Japanese invader was the most lasting impression he took away from a troubling time and this experience had a profound effect on Mr. Hong Xian Huo’s understanding of culture, war and love.
Mr. Huo is a gentle and giving man and now at 84, because of his strong belief in helping others, Mr. Hong Xian Huo has helped other residents to engage in activities and events so that together they can build a strong community at Lenzen Gardens. He has also attended LifeSTEPS’ ESL classes to improve his English. With much improved English Mr. Huo thanked the LifeSTEPS Director of Social Services, “After attending the Senior Stories class, I was inspired and motivated to write about my own story. Thank you LifeSTEPS for bringing happiness and motivation to us every day!”
No, thank you Mr. Huo! LifeSTEPS is honored to be able to help you tell your story! Thank you for reminding us, love prevails even through the most difficult of circumstances.
Assistance for Older Adults Helps Them Stay Housed and Aging in Place
The shock of losing her husband to a heart attack in December 2015 left Joan, 61, a resident of The Vineyard at Menifee Apartments, in crisis. One day Joan was planning for her holiday dinner and the next, she was deciding on funeral arrangements. It was so sudden, so unexpected that it left Joan feeling unprepared to carry on her life alone.
After the funeral in early January, Joan mostly felt numb. However, she knew there were documents with Social Security to file and bills to pay; so she slowly tacked her responsibilities as best she could. She expected her rent to be adjusted since her modest income had just been cut in half. Unfortunately, red tape and paper work seem to never keep pace with the speed of someone’s life and their needs. It would take several weeks to adjust her monthly rent amount and in that time Joan would be late in paying it. Once more Joan was in crisis— the thought of losing her home was almost too much to bear!
Joan had heard from other residents at The Vineyards at Menifee how LifeSTEPS assisted them with their needs—she just never imagined she would need help too. Joan and her husband had been proud that they managed on their social security income. Pinching pennies came natural to the two of them since they had spent their lives working blue collar jobs—working hard and enjoying their life together for the occasional vacation, but never getting ahead financially. Once they had moved into their affordable apartment at The Vineyards the couple finally felt at ease. It was a good place for their retirement, with good neighbors and activities to keep them connected. For Joan and her husband it had been home for the last three years where Joan had enjoyed volunteering for community events. The thought of losing her home, especially in this time of her grief, was devastating.
Her friend and neighbor encouraged Joan to speak to LifeSTEPS Director of Social Services (DSS) at The Vineyards about her situation. Reluctantly, Joan did and was so relieved to hear she would qualify for the one time rental assistance from the LifeSTEPS’ Craig’s Fund. The DSS completed the application packet and requested just $300 to be paid toward Joan’s rent. Not a large amount of money, but for Joan it meant the world!
By the following month Joan had worked out the rent adjustment with section 8 and LifeSTEPS DSS was able to help her navigate Social Security to apply for her late husband’s benefits as well. This was a huge weight off of Joan and she was deeply grateful for the timely help she received from LifeSTEPS; and despite the loss of her husband, it was nice to know she was never truly alone.
LifeSTEPS, Cheerleader for This Single Mom
Single moms are the unsung super heroes of our time. Theresa is no exception. She juggles parenting responsibilities of her two young daughters, ages 11 and 6, with the demands of working two part time jobs and managing her household. There are just not enough hours in her days! Typically Theresa arises before 6AM to shower (in peace), get breakfast ready and pack school lunches. Then the girls are up at 7AM and homework is gathered into their backpacks, clothes are changed and teeth get brushed. At 7:30AM Theresa walks the girls the two blocks to their school and then catches the bus for a 30 minute trip to the first of her two jobs. Most folks would be exhausted by lunch time with her schedule!
Even with working two jobs Theresa’s budget is tight. There is just enough to pay her rent on the affordable apartment she shares with her daughters at Cottonwood Place, but not much else. Theresa has lived in her apartment for four years and despite her modest income has always paid her rent on time. In December 2015 suddenly Theresa’s hours were cut from one of her jobs and this sent her budget into a free fall. Looking ahead to January she knew there would not be enough money to pay her rent in full. When you are the sole income earner and have no family to help you, a financial crisis like Theresa’s doesn’t always end well. Fortunately, Theresa had a resource at her Palm community of Cottonwood to turn to.
Theresa had attended a few community events that LifeSTEPS had hosted in her community, and she remembered seeing a flyer in the laundry room with the LifeSTEPS’ Director of Social Services (DSS) contact info advertised. She decided to reach out and see if there was any assistance the DSS could offer for her situation. Besides hosting community events and providing educational classes for residents at Cottonwood Place, Theresa discovered LifeSTEPS has a special fund for rental assistance for situations just like hers. The LifeSTEPS Craig’s Fund (named after LIfeSTEPS’ founder Craig Gillett) is designed as a one- time safety net to help residents weather a financial crisis and sustain their housing. Since Theresa was a resident in ‘good standing’ and with a history of paying her rent on time, she qualified for the Craig’s Fund help.
Getting the help from LifeSTEPS to pay her January rent gave Theresa the motivation to quickly secure another job that made up the difference in her budget. She also was encouraged by her DSS to finish her GED, which in turn, will lead to more employment opportunities. For Theresa, having a cheerleader in her court with LifeSTEPS helped recover her confidence and get back to her business as super hero single mom.
Please note: Some resident names have been changed.