PORT TOWNSEND — Joe Gaikowski, 32, has experienced more traumas and more heartache in his relatively short lifetime than most.
One of his friends was murdered. He was stabbed. He’s an admitted former drug user. He’s been in jail.
Although clean for a long time, the effects of his past decisions plague him with physical and mental health challenges that he deals with daily.
“I’ve had a hell of a shitty life as a drug user,” he said.
Gaikowski suffered a traumatic brain injury almost 10 years ago during a traffic incident. He was a passenger in a car driven by a man whom he discovered was on his way to buy drugs. When he realized this plan, Gaikowski, who was clean and sober, wanted out of the car.
“Pull over or I’m jumping,” he recalled telling the driver who ran a red light and purposely sped up.
He opened the passenger door and leaped as the car was traveling more than 55 mph.
The next thing he remembers is waking up from a coma at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He had a traumatic brain injury and a massive blood clot on his brain that has taken a long time to resolve.
“My brain injury keeps me from learning new things,” he said. “I can’t concentrate. I get terrible migraines.”
He’s learned to manage his headaches by going to a dark room and taking medication.
“I’ve gotten good at knowing when they are coming so I take precautions to avoid them. They are debilitating,” he said.
He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other health issues.
Gaikowski has been turning his life around with the help of mental health professionals, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, his family and friends.
“I have a deep desire to get rid of the past and move on. I’m 32, I’ve had all the ‘fun’ back then and it wasn’t good. Now that I’m clean, everyone is happy for me,” Gaikowski said.
“I have a good group of people looking out for me, protecting me from a possible relapse.”
Gaikowski admits he’s “…tempted every day, but I’m ready for those situations. I make only good choices now. I don’t want — and can’t have — that stuff in my life whatsoever.”
Gaikowski has found a safe place to live.
Through the Peninsula Home Fund, Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) provided vouchers to help him purchase basic personal and household necessities such as bedding, blankets, towels, curtains and kitchen items.
“I wouldn’t be so comfortable in my recovery right now without this place I call home,” he explained. “I was dumbfounded with all this help. I started crying. I didn’t realize the Home Fund would give these items to me.
“It’s the best feeling. I’ve never been in my own house before. I’ve always shared an apartment. Now I don’t have to worry about other people and what they’re doing.
“It’s amazing, a roof over my head. It’s awesome,” he said.
His home is filled with gifts from his family and friends: a chair from his mother; a table and a couch from a relative; a TV from another; shelves from a friend.
“A little bit of my family is in here, in this house with me,” he said.
He’s been doing odd jobs and working around his home and the neighborhood.
“I do yard work, clean up, rake leaves and make some small home repairs. I work hard, but at my own pace.”
He also did some wallboard repairs to the interior of his home, which he proudly keeps neat and spotless.
“I can do construction but I’m not familiar with the changes in the building codes, and I can’t learn them because of my disability,” Gaikowski said.
“I was building a pole barn a while ago and broke down because I just couldn’t learn. I couldn’t remember all the new things I needed to do the job.”
Despite the challenges, Gaikowski finds the support of his family, friends and professional team is an important ingredient in his new life story.
“I can really communicate with my family. I can see the smiles on their faces when I talk with them on the phone. Not being afraid of things that might come my way, I can work thorough it,” he said.
“I know that asking for help is a strength and powerful. It’s not a weakness.”
Gaikowski is a talented woodworker who now has the space and time to work with his hands and express his imagination. To give back to his family he made Christmas presents this year.
“I have a collection of antique wooden cigar boxes that I’ve been saving for many years. I stripped them bare, used a Dremel and wood burner. I’ll add some color, jewels and other things, line them, and personalize each one,” he said, describing the work he would do in an interview earlier in December.
“This is one way I can give back to those who care. Now they can have a little bit of me in their homes.”
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 2017 campaign had raised $179,151 through Friday.
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.
• Assistance usually averages less than $100. The average amount of help this year has been $62 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.)
• 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.
Using the $264,486 contributed to the Peninsula Home Fund in 2016, OlyCAP had helped 3,563 people from Jan. 1 to Dec. 29.
The remaining funding will continue to help your friends and neighbors on the Peninsula through the middle of January — when 2017 donations will begin to offer a lifeline in 2018.
How to apply for a Home Fund 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.
Contributions so far
A number of generous individuals and organizations have been donating money to the Peninsula Home Fund since the first of the year.
While most of the money is raised between Thanksgiving and Dec. 31, the fund itself never closes.
Donations of any amount are always welcome.
To donate online by credit card, click on https://secure.peninsuladailynews.com/homefund.
Here is a list of donors whose Home Fund contributions were processed during the week of Dec. 21-27:
Name and amount
• Duncan Duvall, Port Townsend, $200.
• Beth Hutmacher, Port Townsend, $25.
• Christopher Melly, Port Angeles, $300. In honor of Grandma and Grandpa Melly, Grandma Delores and Grandpa Kus.
• Thomas Wolfe, Port Angeles, $250.
• Beverly Dawson, Port Angeles, $200.
• Bill and Jeanne Manzer, Sequim, $200.
• Charles Williams, Port Angeles, $100.
• Judy and Emil Moilanen, Port Angeles, $500. In honor of Dale A. Durrwachter.
• Judy and Emil Moilanen, Port Angeles, $100. In honor of Marie Cauvel.
• Judy and Emil Moilanen, Port Angeles, $250. In honor of Sylvia Durrwachter.
• Ray Weinmann, Port Angeles, $300.
• Rita Heywood, Sequim, $100.
• Stan and Sally Garlick, Port Angeles, $200. In memory of Cynthia Little.
• Raymond Bentsen.
• Joseph Tamony and Joyce Morden, Port Angeles. In honor of Carole and Rodney, and Ashley and Erin Morgan.
• Jesse Willard. In honor of Nan Evans.
• Ruth Welch.
• Katherine Smiley.
• Susan A. Kreml.
• Veronica Heath, Port Ludlow. You are not forgotten, not invisible. Hands to help are all around you.
• Stephen M. Cordz, Port Townsend.
• Elizabeth Gordon, Sequim.
• John Wegmann, Port Angeles.
• Samuel Shusterman, Port Townsend. In memory of Frances P. Shusterman.
• Ed Bowlby, Sequim.
• Ronald Hayes, Port Townsend.
• Beth Ashkin, Port Angeles.
• Neil Burkhardt, Sequim.
• Anita Leccese, Port Angeles.
• Judy L. Volkmann, Port Angeles. In memory of my Dan.
• Tim Finch, Sequim.
• Mike and Candace Shale, Sequim.
• Mary Jane Schmidt, Port Townsend. In memory of Mary and Bernard Andrews.
• Joe and Naomi Denhart, Port Angeles. In memory of Marian McGilvra.
• Joe and Naomi Denhart, Port Angeles. In memory of Sheryl Bronsink.
• Kim Ykema, Port Angeles.
• Robbin and Patricia Hammel, Port Angeles. In memory of Jim Rexroat.
• Beverly Stanley, Port Angeles.
• Bill and Lois Zynda, Port Angeles.
• Velma Johnson, Sequim. In memory of Corky Johnson.
• John and Kathy Schreiner, Sequim.
• Donald and Barbara Reidel, Port Angeles. Remembering our brothers Ron Reidel, Roger Reidel and Arthur Dixon Jr.
• Carrol and Alan Clark, Sequim.
• Al and Kitty Gross, Port Angeles.
• Gene and Lois Brown, Sequim. In memory of Greg Brown.
• Bill and Pennie Dickin, Sequim. In honor of Phyllis Bowen. Mom, we miss you.
• Dick and Donna Halsaver, Sequim.
• Roger and Kay Paynter, Port Angeles.
• Elizabeth Ann and Jackson L. Williams, Sequim.
• Kelly Johnson, Port Angeles.
• George and Jolie Will, Sequim.
• Marybeth Barnell, Port Angeles.
• Muriel Main, Port Angeles.
• Gisela Simons, Port Angeles. In honor of the Preuss Family.
• Sequim, $10.
• Port Angeles, $300.
• Chapel Hill, N.C., $100. In honor of Bob and Peggy Reith.
• Chapel Hill, N.C., $100. In honor of Earl and Bernice Parke.
• Port Angeles, $2,000.
• Sequim, $200.
• Sequim, $100. In honor of Pete and Millie Rasmussen.
• Sequim, $250.
• Forks, $500.
• Port Angeles, $200.
• Port Angeles, $200.
• Sequim, $100.
• Port Angeles, $250.
• Port Townsend, $200.
• Sequim, $500.
• Port Angeles, $300.
• Port Townsend, $200. In memory of our parents.
Port Angeles, $35.
Even the best handwriting can be hard to decipher at times.
Please report any errors in this list to 360-452-2345. We’ll rerun the listing correctly. Our sincerest appreciation again to our donors.
If you have any questions about the fund, phone Terry R. Ward, PDN publisher, at 360-417-3500.