SEQUIM — Here in the Dungeness Valley, Michelle and John Bonifazio found the life they were looking for. They had met and married in Southern California, went to work for big companies and moved around the West, following the jobs from Silverado, Calif., to Beaverton, Ore., to Boulder, Colo.
Both Michelle and John, an engineer who’d worked for Intel Corp., had had their fill of all that. John, who specialized in electromagnetic interference work, was burned out; he and Michelle wanted a fresh start — and fresh air, and a community where people smile, wave and chat. In a word, Sequim. The couple and their son and daughter arrived in summer 2003.
The petite, ebullient Michelle found work as a driver training instructor — a job that fit her like a glove.
“I love working with teenagers. They keep you young; they keep you on your toes,” she said.
Michelle’s students would confide in her about their lives. Being in a little car together for six hours will do that. This instructor was focused, however, on teaching her teens how to be safe out there.
When Michelle was 13, she’d been a passenger in a car hit by a drunken driver. That changed her life and her outlook. When her friends headed to the beaches of Orange County, Michelle was going to her physical therapist.
On the Peninsula, she taught students in Sequim, Port Hadlock and Port Townsend for a few years. Then a friend encouraged her to go into a possibly lucrative line of work: real estate.
“I was a great Realtor,” she said, smiling ruefully, “until the market crash.” That was 2008. Michelle went back to teaching driver’s ed, and enjoyed it as much as ever. Then, much to her disappointment, the driving school went out of business.
Last year, Michelle and John faced the first of several rough patches. The house they owned was now too large, since both children had grown up and moved out. The property tax bill was only growing steeper.
“We were seriously behind,” Michelle recalled. They needed to sell.
Next problem: The heating bill soared. The couple applied for and received help, just in time, from Washington state’s federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.
That was only the beginning of the cold season in late fall 2017. No sooner had Michelle and John put their place on the market than their water well failed. They had to pull down the “for sale” signs.
Michelle recalled that her daughter, a single parent of two, had some years ago received help from the Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) for her basic living expenses.
The Bonifazios learned that OlyCAP also could lend them a hand up. The agency, with money from the Peninsula Home Fund, helped Michelle and John get their well repaired.
The Home Fund and OlyCAP were there, Michelle said, “in a very down, dark time in our life.
“It was humbling.”
The house sold. Relieved, liberated, the Bonifazios moved into a 43-year-old double-wide mobile home near the Dungeness River.
“It’s a beautiful location. We are thrilled to death,” Michelle said.
“We have a place to lay our heads,” a place they keep warm with space heaters, a place with a snug kitchen where she and John enjoy cooking together.
John is fixing up the house, and the couple looks forward to taking their bicycles out on the Olympic Discovery Trail, and going for hikes in their favorite places including Silver Lakes — “the view is spectacular” — and the Lower Gray Wolf River trail.
Now, added Michelle, “It’s time to go back to work.”
Her ideal job? Teaching teenagers how to drive, how to be safe, how to be smart.
A new year is coming soon. The Bonifazios look forward to it — and feel grateful for the support they’ve received in their adopted community.
“OlyCAP saved us,” Michelle said. “They really did. When we’re able to give back, we will,” she vowed: “volunteer time, money or both.”
Peninsula’s safety net
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.
The campaign will end this coming Monday, although people can— and do— contribute donations all year to the fund, now in its 30th year.
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.
Since its beginning in 1989, the fund has relied on the support of Jefferson and Clallam residents.
At this point, OlyCAP is helping people with funds from the 2017 campaign. By the middle of January, it will switch to the money donated this year to help Peninsula residents in 2019.
From Port Townsend to Forks, from Quilcene and Brinnon to Sequim and La Push, 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.
• The average amount of help this year has been $129 per person.
• 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.)
Apply for a grant
To apply for a Peninsula Home Fund grant, contact one of the three OlyCAP offices:
• OlyCAP’s Port Angeles office is at 228 W. First St., Suite J (Armory Square Mall); 360-452-4726. For Port Angeles- and Sequim-area residents.
• Its Port Townsend office is at 823 Commerce Loop; 360-385-2571. For Jefferson County residents.
• The Forks office is at 421 Fifth Ave.; 360-374-6193. For West End residents.
Leave a message in the voice mail box at any of the three numbers, and a Home Fund caseworker will phone you back.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.