Caroline Culbertson takes every opportunity to commune with nature. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Help with water heater made all the difference for self-sufficient octogenarian

By Diane Urbani de la Paz

For Peninsula Daily News

PORT HADLOCK — Caroline Culbertson, 86, has been retired only a short while. She enjoyed a long working life: actress, artist, hospital supervisor and finally, for a good 30 years, massage therapist.

These jobs did not come with pensions or 401(k) plans.

So Culbertson, who has been single all her life, lives on Social Security:

“That’s it,” she says while lacing up her well-worn sneakers. She’s saving up for a new pair, as she doesn’t miss a morning ramble in rural Port Hadlock.

She lived on a houseboat in Seattle — while commuting to her massage therapy job at Moclips’ Ocean Crest Resort — but about three years ago, she decided it was time to retire.

She located a mobile home she could afford, and after moving in, found the previous owner had “marginally kept things together,” as she puts it, enough to sell the thing. Now, the systems are failing in rotation.

This year’s troubles began with her washing machine. It malfunctioned and flooded the house.

She came home to the deluge, and “it was horrible … smelled like a swimming pool in here,” she recalled.

Water was pouring down the hallway to the bedroom, and Culbertson’s arthritis made it impossible for her to turn the spigots off. She ran next door to find a neighbor, who turned them off.

She got through that, only to discover that her water heater had stopped working. Tapped out after the washing machine incident, she went to ECHHO, the Ecumenical Christian Helping Hands Organization based in Port Townsend.

Staffers there told her about Olympic Community Action Programs, or OlyCAP, which administers the Peninsula Home Fund.

Culbertson’s application for help buying a new water heater was approved. She received a $350 voucher that got her the new heater. Then, she said, an ECHHO worker installed the new heater and hauled away the old one.

“The generosity is beyond my ability to describe,” she said. “It’s a community … a tour de force” of OlyCAP, ECHHO and the Peninsula Home Fund.

With its assistance for things as basic as hot water, the trio of programs enabled this octogenarian to remain self-sufficient. And she is fiercely so. Culbertson uses Jefferson Transit’s buses to go just about everywhere.

Culbertson suffered a heart attack two years ago, at age 84. Her recovery has been steady, with her morning outings, cardiac rehab classes at Jefferson Healthcare and yoga.

When a reporter visited, she demonstrated a favorite posture: halasana, also known as plow pose. It’s an inversion not everybody can manage easily.

Culbertson was fluid with it, unfolding onto her back, lifting her feet into the air and then bringing them down to the floor behind her head. No problem there.

When asked for the keys to longevity and vitality, Culbertson pulls out a magazine: the September-October 2013 issue of Massage and Bodywork. It contains an article about her, replete with a list of tips — advice for massage therapists that extends to the rest of us.

• First, take care of your own body as well as you care for others.

• Work hard and be dedicated.

• Seek extra training, to expand your mind.

• Have a passion outside of massage.

Culbertson’s passions include her visual art. Her painting of a great blue heron hangs in Kenmore’s City Hall, and she has displayed her work in galleries in and around Port Townsend. In her snug art room, a large hummingbird image is taking colorful shape.

She finds inspiration outside her front door. A devotee of the natural world, Culbertson loves to visit the estuary near her home, where she communes with the kingfishers.

Now winter is coming, and it’s impossible to know which appliance might malfunction inside this mobile home. Culbertson, at the same time, is the picture of resilience.

Jo Dwyer, the OlyCAP housing services coordinator who helped her connect with the Peninsula Home Fund earlier this year, sensed this.

“What impressed me about Caroline,” Dwyer said, “was her upbeat attitude toward life, and the perpetual sparkle in her eye.”

Peninsula Home Fund

The Peninsula Home Fund — a safety net for local residents when they suddenly face an emergency situation and can’t find help elsewhere — is seeking contributions for its annual holiday season fundraising campaign.

From Port Townsend to Forks, from Quilcene and Brinnon to Sequim and LaPush, money from the fund is used for hot meals for seniors; warm winter coats for kids; home repairs for a low-income family; needed prescription drugs; dental work; safe, drug-free temporary housing; eyeglasses — the list goes on and on.

• Assistance usually averages less than $100. The average amount of help this year has been $68.17 per person.

The maximum allowance per year is $350 per household.

• All instances of help are designed to get an individual or family through a crisis — and back on the path to self-sufficiency.

Home Fund case managers often work with each individual or family to develop a plan to become financially stable — and avoid a recurrence of the emergency that prompted aid from the fund.

As needed, Peninsula Home Fund contributions are often used in conjunction with money from churches, service clubs and other donors, enabling OlyCAP to stretch the value of the contribution.

The goal again: “a hand up, not a handout.”

• No money is deducted by the Peninsula Daily News for administration fees or any other overhead.

Every penny goes to OlyCAP.

The money goes to help the most vulnerable members of our community, from infants to families to seniors.

Please note: Because of heavy community demands, the loss of grants because of the economy and recent cuts in government funding, OlyCAP beginning in 2012 was permitted to use 10 percent — 10 cents of every dollar donated — to pay for the vital programs and services for Home Fund clients. (Previously there were no deductions.)

OlyCAP has kept it in the area of 8 percent, a fraction of the average overhead of other nonprofits.

• All contributions are IRS tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law for the year in which the check is written.

Your personal information is kept confidential.

PDN and OlyCAP do not rent, sell, give or otherwise share your address or other information with anyone or make any other use of it.

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Angeles.

Caroline Culbertson sold the original to a Seattle art collector and kept a print for her living room. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

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