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OARS reaching out to ‘orphaned elderly’ 

Cindi Fry

Cindi Fry in front of what she calls the 'wall of awesomeness,' which depicts Community Resource Center success stories. Fry is site coordinator at the CRC in Marble Falls and community navigator for the orphaned elderly, a new focus of its 15-year-old Older Adult Rural Services program. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

A 95-year-old woman living on her own in Sunrise Beach Village had six rehabilitation appointments in Lakeway after foot surgery. 

“She told me since the surgery was on her foot, she didn’t feel comfortable driving to Lakeway and asked if there was any way we could help,” said Cindi Fry, site coordinator at the Community Resource Center in Marble Falls and community navigator for the orphaned elderly. “She’s 95 years old and was thinking of driving to Lakeway for treatment!” 

The CRC’s Older Adult Rural Services (OARS) stepped in to help, contracting with a local ride-hail driver to take her, wait for her, and bring her back. The driver even took the woman grocery shopping, all at a reduced rate.

“It was still expensive, but it wasn’t about the money,” Fry said. “It wasn’t about, ‘We need a donor.’ This is compassionate care. This is what you do for people.” 

This is also why OARS was founded in the first place about 15 years ago through the Texas Housing Foundation. The term “orphaned elderly” was born only about 18 months ago.

“That term came to fruition from a meeting (CRC) had with Hill Country Memorial (medical clinic),” Fry said. “A woman who lived in THF housing told us about people in her apartment community who have no family, no friends, who have no one to help them. She called them orphaned.” 

OARS serves people ages 55 and older, but orphaned elderly are typically over 75 and have outlived spouses, siblings, and friends. 

“They are in this world alone,” Fry said. “They have to depend on the community to help them. A lot of them, the only person they see is the Meals on Wheels person. So if the driver doesn’t say there’s a problem, we don’t find out. Mostly, they don’t self-report that they need help.” 

The program began by providing transportation to the elderly, mainly to doctors’ offices. It has recently expanded to help with bills, find doctors or home health care, provide food, and offer any other vital services. 

One elderly gentleman drives in from Round Mountain each week to have someone help him read his mail. Another was receiving psychological care after his son was murdered. OARS came to his aid when he discovered that Social Security had declared him deceased rather than his son, and his benefits, including Medicare, were cut off.

“It was not an easy process,” Fry said. “You think it would be easy, right? It took forever, and meanwhile, he had no money and no health care.” 

Potential OARS clients are sometimes reported to the Community Resource Center through Adult Protective Services, which cannot offer much help if the person has a place to live and food to eat. Fry steps in, and if the budget falls short, she calls someone like Raymond Whitman of Whitman Insurance Agency in Marble Falls, and he writes a check. 

“Over the years, we have seen in my business a number of our retirees and older people, through no fault of their own, get into a jam,” Whitman said.

He told of one couple in their 90s who both had pensions and owned a modest home, but as the cost of living rose, their pensions did not keep up. They told Whitman they had to decide if they were going to buy groceries or medicine. 

“Our system is broken when people who paid into it their entire lives can’t get enough out of it to live,” Whitman said. “That’s where the Community Resource Center comes in.”

Not all elderly need help and not all help comes from money. 

Bonnie Barker, a 90-year-old resident of Highland Oaks Apartments in Marble Falls, stays so busy helping her neighbors that her grown children sometimes complain she has no time for them. She sits with elderly neighbors, cooks meals for them, and walks their dogs. 

Bonnie Barker
Bonnie Barker, 90, in her Highland Oaks Apartments home in Marble Falls. She is well-known in the complex for helping elderly neighbors by sitting with them, cooking for them, and helping with pets when needed. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Fry calls Barker “Meals on Feet” instead of Meals on Wheels.

“She gives and gives,” she said. “She’s amazing.”

“I just see a need and take care of it,” Barker said. “I do what I can. There’s so very few people who see a need anymore.”

Which is one of the issues Fry hopes to solve with more community education and outreach. 

“A lot of people don’t realize that there is somebody who can help them,” she said. “For so many years, we were doomed with the tagline that we ‘refer’ people. We do so much more than that here.” 

The services offered at the Community Resource Center are listed on one of the walls at the Marble Falls location, 1016 Broadway. Representatives from every organization on that list can be found at the center at different times of the week or month. The front desk can help set up appointments. Also on site is The Helping Center food pantry. 

CRC assists with job searches, gas to get to a job interview or doctor’s appointment, and much, much more. Another wall in the kitchen and community room is covered with colorful, enlarged photos of events and success stories. 

After 15 years of mostly providing transportation for anyone 55 and older who needed it, Fry is expanding OARS to include meeting that and other needs for the orphaned elderly. 

“It is so hard for someone who is older to sit on the phone on hold to get through to Social Security, or some other government entity, or even a doctor sometimes,” Fry said. “Some can’t email. If we can get their documents, everything they received in the mail, then scan it and email answers back where they need to go, things start happening and it starts sorting itself out.” 

The first problem to overcome is finding those who need help, especially when so many are reluctant to ask for it or don’t know where to turn. If you know someone who needs assistance, call the Community Resource Center at 830-693-0700. 

The second problem is money. As the ministerial arm of the Texas Housing Foundation, OARS receives a set sum for spending on clients each year. Once that is gone, Fry looks for donations. The service is also applying for grants and has received small grants in the past.

“I seriously would like to encourage everybody to help, even if it’s a small donation of $5 or $20,” Fry said. “It adds up and it goes to people who truly need that money.” 

To donate, visit the CRC’s website at crctx.org and click on Contribute in the top navigation bar. Find your county, then click on the OARS bar under your county’s logo to go to the donation page. To receive help, visit the website or call 830-693-0700 or the 24-hour crisis hotline at 800-841-1255.

suzanne@thepicayune.com