|Kimberly Warren at Coos Elderly Services|
COOS BAY — Entering its 25th year, Coos Elderly Services isn't just a nonprofit financial management organization.
Talk to the employees, volunteers and clientele, and it's a much more dynamic and personal relationship.
"We make a difference in people's lives," executive director Kimberly Warren said. "It's not just paying bills. The clientele that we serve, a lot of times their lights have been turned off either because they don't know how to pay the bills or they have forgotten. Some have gambling addictions. A lot of the people are victims of financial exploitation, so they come to us because they're about to be evicted or their lights are being turned off, and we try to make sure they still have a roof over their head."
The service was started by Sister Mary Laetice Williams, who along with one volunteer would assist elderly individuals suffering cognitive decline with paying bills and balancing a checkbook.
While the organization still provides those services, Warren said the bulk of its business is serving as the representative payee for individuals as assigned by government agencies.
With the agency consisting of four employees and nine volunteers to serve 311 clients, its name is now even a bit of a misnomer.
"We also no longer just serve the elderly," Warren said. "We serve any age. Our youngest client is 8 years old and our oldest is 103, 104 years old. We serve the mentally disabled, the homeless, drug- or alcohol-addicted, developmentally disabled along with our seniors."
But with the most clients, the organization builds a closer relationship as they generally serve as the only family the person has left to aid them.
"With a very large portion of our clientele, we are the only family they have, and we feel they are our family just as much as they feel vice-versa," Warren said. "Some of them with mental illness, they've already burned the bridge, because they don't understand the illness, so the family has written them off. The ones that are financially exploited, everybody else has already gotten all the money, so they don't want anything to do with them."
One experience dealing with a drug-addicted client continues to stick out to Warren to this day, causing her to choke up.
"They don't like us very much when we tell them no and they can't have extra money because we know they're going to buy drugs," Warren said. "This particular person was very upset. I was in Walmart one day and he approached me and actually gave me a hug and started getting teary. He said 'I absolutely hated you guys. I wished death on you every day. I've now been clean for over a year and I thank you for saving my life.'"
Deeply impacted by his words, Warren stood with the client in the middle of the store, crying.
"We all have those times at our jobs when we just want to throw in the towel," Warren said. "It's times like that where you think, 'This is where I belong.'"
A volunteer for 14 years, the work and impact keeps Teresa Sletcha motivated to continue coming back to help.
"There is a little bit of Sister Laetice hanging over us," Sletcha said. "It gives me something to do, but I help out of the heart and I just keep coming back."
As the organization has expanded its services, including acting as court-appointed guardians, conservators and personal representatives of estates, its clientele also now includes demand from Curry County.
That has prompted them to look for a satellite office and need for more volunteers.
"As we continue to grow, I'm putting more pressure on the staff and volunteers, and at this point it's becoming a hindrance because we are continuing to accept new clients every day," Warren said. "We would of course love to have more volunteers."
Not picky about volunteers, all Warren requested was a big heart and passion for helping people through the organization's mission.
But despite the added demands and workload, it's the passion, satisfaction and reward that continues to drive the organization forward and fulfill its mission to aid those in need.
"It'd be great if no one needs our services anymore, but unfortunately that's not going to happen," Warren said. "We're not going turn anyone away or stop helping people."
The agency is located at 390 S. Second St. in Coos Bay, and residents can learn more about its services at www.cooselderly.org.
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Coos Elderly Services offers more than just financial management