Getting from point A (Help!) to point B (Help's here!) in the arena of social services can be a confusing and convoluted trip akin to a rollercoaster ride in a house of mirrors - on a good day. And sometimes it's that way for both the one seeking help and the one trying to find a solution.
Thinking back on several years of these columns, certain phrases come to mind:
"We don't have all the answers, but we can usually find out who does."
"Someone somewhere may have the answer, and it's our job to find them."
"We have a lot of experience in a variety of areas, so what's confusing to you may not be to us - at least not as much."
"Give us a call."
"Information and assistance - it's what we do."
Someone looking for assistance or information is often an individual who has been independent and is begrudgingly admitting to himself that maybe he needs some help. One of the greatest assurances we can offer folks is that we've probably navigated the waters before - and there may even be a chart! Not to say that we can always answer with a confident smile: "No problem. I know exactly how to help you." Sometimes the "confident smile" may be masking the deer-in-the-headlights expression in the eyes.
I've been doing this a while, but it is not infrequent that someone requires help in a way I've never encountered. However, in doing this job, I am aware that answers are out there somewhere, and others have sailed before me. Our Area Agency on Aging (O3A) covers the entire coast of Washington, and we have valuable resources in each other. Not that there aren't instances where we just run into a wall - no information, no help - nothing. Sometimes the answer is "There's just no help available for that."
Then, we begin asking "Why not?"
Because another part of what we do is coordinate existing community resources and provide plans for enhanced services in our areas. Running into the wall of "No help here" provides an opportunity to find out if there is a way to make help happen there. Given, that's not much consolation to someone who needs that help now, but it gives us a starting point for the future.
One of the most frequent responses we get from folks is along the lines of:
"Thank you. I didn't know where to turn next, and (staff) was very helpful. It's nice to know that there are people who can help me, and the next time I need help I know where to call!"
In statements such as that, I also hear "I do not have to be in this alone." And that is huge. Not having to "go-it-alone" is a tremendous help and quickly lessens anxiety on a variety of levels. And chances are, you might come up with information we do not have. Sharing is a good thing.
Helping where we can, exploring new resources and opportunities, working together with other folks in the community ... it's what we (you, us, community) do. Give us a call.
Senior Information & AssistanceLong Beach: 642-3634or 888-571-6558
Raymond: 942-2177or 888-571-6557
O3A Web site: www.o3a.org