EDITOR’S NOTE — For 21 years, Peninsula Daily News readers in Jefferson and Clallam counties have supported the “hand up, not a handout” Peninsula Home Fund.
Today, we feature another in a series of articles on how the Home Fund operates and who benefits from our readers’ generosity.
The next article will appear Sunday along with the latest list of donors.
PORT TOWNSEND — After an injury on the job left him unable to work, the Peninsula Daily News Peninsula Home Fund helped Hans Oscar Heil get on track to a healthier life.
Ten years ago, Heil was a U.S. Forest Service firefighter.
He loved his job.
Putting out fires — saving trees, wildlife and homes from devastation — filled him with a sense of accomplishment and triumph.
Then, the unthinkable happened: an accident. It broke bones — and his spirit.
He qualified for disability but found his small monthly stipend discouraging.
He floundered and began a new fight — that of the demons in his mind.
“When I couldn’t work anymore, I lost everything,” says Heil, now 61.
“Then, my dad passed on. All together, it was overwhelming.”
Years went by. He was depressed, despondent and lonely.
Three years ago, he moved from Oregon to Port Townsend to live closer to his mother and brother.
“The people in Port Townsend are very friendly and positive, which helps me a lot,” Heil says.
Recognizing that he needed help to move forward, he went to Jefferson Mental Health Services.
He credits the counselors there with helping him overcome his despair and get back on his feet.
They also pointed him in the direction of OlyCAP’s housing services.
He lauds OlyCAP and the federal “Section 8” subsidized housing program for finding him a place to live within his budget.
OlyCAP is the nonprofit Olympic Community Action Programs, the No. 1 emergency care agency in Jefferson and Clallam counties.
It also screens the applicants for the Peninsula Daily News’ “hand up, not a handout” Peninsula Home Fund and distributes the funds.
Heil does light gardening work — limited because of a neck injury — to help make ends meet.
“I’m pretty good at living within my budget,” says Heil.
“But once in awhile, I have an unexpected expense, which can put me behind.”
OlyCAP tapped the Home Fund so Heil could have gas money to drive to Port Hadlock for physical therapist appointments.
It was a small — but crucial — amount of money, a bridge for an important part of Heil’s rehabilitation.
The Home Fund helps “people in need to stay on, or to get back on, their feet,” says Heil.
As a way of giving thanks to the community, Heil works as a volunteer dog walker at the Jefferson County Humane Society.
“The dogs get so excited to get out,” says Heil, whose own mood gets a boost from the dogs happily greeting him.
“They make me work hard to keep up their pace, which gives me good exercise.
“I’m feeling much better these days through a better diet and exercise.”
His dog-walking attire includes a fanny pack with two water bottles — one for the dog and one for him — plus dog biscuits.
One day, a border collie was left at the shelter because the owner couldn’t stop her from chasing livestock.
Heil fell in love with the energetic, bright-eyed pup.
He adopted her and named her Rosie for her rosy outlook on life, which has rubbed off on Heil.
“Rosie loves everyone and everything,” he says. “She is such a delight.”
The PDN’s Peninsula Home Fund provides a unique lifeline on the North Olympic Peninsula.
All the money collected for the Home Fund goes — without any deductions — for hot meals for seniors, warm winter coats for kids, home repairs for the low-income, needed eyeglasses and prescription drugs, dental work, safe, drug-free temporary housing . . .
The list goes on and on.
Since Jan. 1, the Home Fund had helped more than 1,800 families — about 180 households every month plus individuals like Hans Heil — in Jefferson and Clallam counties.
Since Thanksgiving and through Dec. 31, the PDN’s Peninsula Home Fund — a safety net for local residents when there is nowhere else to turn — is seeking contributions for its annual holiday season fundraising campaign.
From Port Townsend to Forks, from Quilcene and Brinnon to LaPush, it’s a “hand up, not a handout” for children, teens, families and the elderly.
• No money is deducted for administration or other overhead.
Your entire donation — 100 percent, every penny — goes to help those who are facing times of crisis.
• All contributions are fully IRS tax-deductible.
• Your personal information is kept confidential.
Peninsula Daily News does not rent, sell, give or otherwise share your address or other information with anyone or make any other use of the information.
• Instances of help are designed to get an individual or family through the crisis — and every effort is made to put them back on the path to self-sufficiency.
That’s the “hand up, not a handout” focus of the fund.
In many instances, Peninsula Home Fund case managers at OlyCAP work with individuals or families to develop a plan to become financially stable — and avoid a recurrence of the emergency that prompted aid from the fund.
• Begun in 1989, the fund is supported entirely by Jefferson and Clallam residents.
Individuals, couples, businesses, churches, service organizations and school groups set a record for contributions in 2009 — $230,806.95.
With heavy demand this year, the carefully rationed fund is being rapidly depleted.
All the money collected in 2009 is expected to be spent before Dec. 31.
• As was done with Heil, money is usually distributed in small amounts, usually up to $150.
• Assistance is limited to one time in a 12-month period.
• Peninsula Home Fund contributions are also used in conjunction with money from other agencies, enabling OlyCAP to stretch the value of the contribution.
Applying to the Home Fund
To apply for a grant from the fund, phone OlyCAP at 360-452-4726 (Clallam County) or 360-385-2571 (Jefferson County).
If you have any questions about the fund, phone John Brewer, Peninsula Daily News editor and publisher, at 360-417-3500.
Or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Peninsula Daily News publishes stories during the fundraising campaign listing contributors and reporting on how the fund works.