PORT TOWNSEND — Shane Sodano’s four daughters run around the place without a care in the world, playing with their dog, Buddha, stopping back in to greet a visiting reporter, telling Mom about the new kitten at the neighbor’s house.
The eldest, Raelynn, looks to be the picture of health, her hair long and lustrous and her eyes bright. But this youngster has lived through a difficult year.
Last March she could barely eat, and was rapidly losing weight; she dropped to 55 pounds around the time she was diagnosed with an H. pylori bacterial infection. While the cause was not clear, the symptoms were acute: nausea, appetite loss, burning stomach pain.
Sodano needed to take Raelynn to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. For a time, “we pretty much lived there,” Sodano said.
Sodano, who works in a local cafe, could not have afforded those trips without the help she received from the Peninsula Home Fund, the three-decade-old reserve sustained by donations from Clallam and Jefferson county residents.
The Olympic Community Action Programs, aka OlyCAP, administers the Home Fund, making small grants to local residents who are in tough financial times.
These grants come in the form of bus passes, gift cards for groceries, help with the heating bill and help buying gasoline so the recipient can get to work or to medical care as well as other help.
OlyCAP screens each applicant’s income and family situation to ensure that Home Fund dollars go to those who need them most.
When Raelynn became ill, Sodano had a van with nearly 200,000 miles on it. To be a safe mode of transport, the vehicle was in dire need of repairs, but Sodano lacked the cash to cover them.
OlyCAP and the Home Fund were there for her.
Sodano received a grant to have her van fixed this past spring, and Raelynn received the care that helped her turn the corner toward becoming the girl she is now: playing basketball and football, doing holiday crafts with her sisters. The four have been going to school and after-school activities ever since.
Yet Sodano, 38, takes none of this for granted. On her forearm is a tattoo of a chain with 17 links, each of which represents a year of abusing drugs. The last link is broken, signifying her freedom. Sodano has been clean and sober for three and a half years now.
She expresses gratitude for her life, and for the small house she shares with her daughters, a place surrounded by grass and trees and neighbor kids.
“I’ve lived in parking lots, tents, a motor home,” Sodano said.
It was OlyCAP who helped her move into this house almost two years ago.
During Raelynn’s illness, paying rent was tough since Sodano had to take a lot of time off from her job. Through it all, she said, her landlady has been kind to her.
Samantha Troxler, the OlyCAP staff member who worked with Sodano, described her as a woman with the ability to find a smile and a laugh even in the most adverse predicaments.
“What inspires and impresses me most about Shane is her resiliency,” Troxler said, “her dedication to her daughters and the love and joy she shares with her family.”
Sodano brightens when she’s asked about the new year on the near horizon. She looks forward to a couple of big deals: living clean and sober and enjoying everyday life with her girls, Raelynn, 10, Kylie, 9, Carmella, 7, and Saphina, 6.
The younger ones are on the Olympic Thunder cheerleading team, and they love to go together to Zumba, a dance-fitness class at the Twisters gym in Port Hadlock.
Recently Sodano made a bit of a lifestyle change: She discontinued the Internet at home. The girls “were stuck on it,” she said.
Unstuck, the family went shopping for craft supplies at a discount store. They proceeded to make a variety of furnishings for their home, including Christmas tree ornaments and a candy cane-shaped wreath, which the girls show off to a reporter.
“I’m a pretty resourceful person,” Mom said.
Seems her daughters take after her.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.