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Making ends meet
Senior services provide pieces of the puzzle


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Ofelia Calayag’s face crinkles easily into a smile when she opens the door to her studio apartment in an Uptown senior building to welcome guests. The door sports a homemade paper American flag—symbol of her adopted country—and a cross bedecked with curly ribbon.

Calayag came from the Philippines 37 years ago to earn money so her six nieces and nephews back home could go to school. She is an active member and extraordinary minister of Communion at St. Thomas of Canterbury Parish and a Legionary of Mary.

Calayag welcomes lots of guests to her home in Heiwa House, a subsidized senior residence operated by the Japanese-American Service Committee. At 76, she has recently completed chemotherapy for colon cancer and suffers from a variety of other ailments: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. She gets a weekly visit from a visiting nurse and two visits a week from a physical therapist, who gives her exercises to help the numbness in her hands and feet—a lingering side effect from the chemo.

Calayag also gets four hours of housekeeping help, also from the Japanese-American Service Committee, and she recently discontinued Meals on Wheels, because, she said, the food was getting boring.

She also has an emergency alert necklace to wear, so that if she needs help immediately, all she has to do is press the button.

Many of the services Calayag receives are coordinated by Catholic Charites Senior Services, said case manager Amy Magnusson. Catholic Charities can provide help for seniors like Calayag, who have multiple needs, by coordinating the efforts of a variety of other contractors. Most of the services are paid for with funding from the state of Illinois or the City of Chicago, Magnusson said.

Calayag herself worked as a housekeeper for the Japanese-American Service Committee before becoming ill in 2006. Before that, she worked in the accounting offices of hotels and a textile company. In the Philippines, she was a teacher.

She has a small fixed income, but can manage with her subsidized rent ($268 a month) and the help provided by the housekeepers.

“We clean the apartment, the bathroom,” she said. “I need some help shopping. They do laundry for me. It’s really hard for me to do vacuuming, the heavy cleaning, the laundry.”

She has a nephew in Chicago who comes to visit, but he can’t come as often as she needs help, Calayag said.

This year, she has felt the bite of increased costs of medications, as her Medicare drug coverage plan stopped covering some of her eight medications. “Some that were $1, $2, $3 a month are $16 or $28 now,” she said.

While Calayag’s income level is above the poverty line ($9,570 for a household of one, over 65 years old), it isn’t enough to cover her expenses.

Many other seniors are below the poverty line, more than 272,617 in Illinois in 2005, according to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Catholic Charities, which last year provided services to 239,046 senior citizens, is highlighting the problem with “Honor Your Father and Mother: Seniors in Poverty,” a white paper released at its annual meeting Oct. 24.

The paper looks at many factors that lead to vulnerability among senior citizens, and some of the agency’s many efforts to address it.

One such factor is that 41 percent of people 75 or older live alone.

A mong them is Herbert Ellis, 79, who lives in Catholic Charities’ Roseland Manor senior housing building. Roseland Manor is one of 18 senior buildings subsidized by the Department for Housing and Urban Development and operated by Catholic Charities for people over 62 years old with low incomes.

Ellis, who had a long career as a manager and regional manager for large retail companies, lost his pension when his former employer was bought out. He could not afford the market-rate rent of $1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment in the complex. As at Heiwa house, residents generally pay 30 percent of their income in rent.

While he and most occupants of the 60 apartments in his building live alone, they have opportunities to socialize and interact. Ellis, acting president of the residents’ council, wants to expand those opportunities more.

He likes the building because it’s small, convenient and secure, he said, with 24-hour security and visitors required to sign in and out.

Catholic Charities Regional Property Manager Zalina Jones said the 15-year-old building is popular for those reasons; it has a waiting list of 18 people for two or three vacancies a year.

The only thing Ellis would like to do is get more residents involved in activities, he said.

“We want to get these seniors to enjoy their golden years,” he said. “Every time a bus leaves here, even if it’s just going around the corner, I’m on it. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Ellis bowls twice a week, plays pool and serves as the building’s photographer. He also makes coffee in the lobby every morning—a small thing that encourages residents to come down and visit.

Most activities—things like barbecues or Christmas sing-alongs--are at the complex, Jones said, because many of the residents moved in shortly after the building opened and have aged in place. Those in their 80s are often not as mobile as they were in their 60s, she said.

That’s not yet an issue for Ellis, but about 38 percent of people over 65 have one or more sensory, physical, mobility, self-care or cognitive disabilities.

Ida Pettye of Maywood uses a walker and was told 10 years ago that she could not stay home alone after passing out in the bathroom. She now takes 18 pills a day: 13 in the morning, three at lunchtime and two in the evening

Pettye, 72, goes to the Accolade Adult Day Care Center in Oak Park. Five days a week, the center offers breakfast and lunch and activities from exercise class to puzzles. Her favorite thing to do is play bingo, she said.

“I win all the time,” she said. “I’m just lucky. And you can only win once (in a session), so then I help the people at my table win.”

Pettye raised six children, she said, and now has 10 grandchildren and one step-grandchild, as well as five great-grandchildren. She lived in the Rockwell Gardens housing project for 27 years, before moving to Arkansas. She returned to care for her daughter-in-law’s 10-year-old daughter when the daughter-in-law died. Her husband died in 1995.

“Now I need someone to take care of me,” said Pettye, who lives on $690 a month.

Pettye lives with her daughter and still helps care for some of her grandchildren. She worked as a packer in several factories and as an elevator operator in the Majestic Hotel in downtown Chicago.

For the most part, she says, she likes coming to Accolade, although her days there will end when she makes a planned move to a South Side assisted living building where her brother and sister-in-law reside.

The care Pettye and 42 other clients receive costs $52 a day, and is mostly paid for by the Department of Rehabilitative Services. Any copay is on a sliding scale based on income, said Denise Smith, the center’s director.

Money is tight for all the clients, as it is for the center, which pieces together state money, money from federal food commodity programs and others. The clients, like Pettye, piece together their day care services, transportation services and other programs.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem possible to work it all out, Pettye said.

“Sometimes I have to stretch out on faith,” she said. “I say to myself I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”