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Leadership group learns of helpful organizations

Kathryn Reed, Tahoe Daily Tribune

In a region where the disparity between the haves and have-nots grows on a daily basis, it should come as no surprise there are a number of agencies to help those in need.

It was a wake-up call to many of the 24 members of Leadership Lake Tahoe last month as one representative after another spoke to the group. It wasn’t a plea for money, but a request to understand that life on the South Shore is not as idyllic as the surroundings might have many believe.

Needs are not just financial. They include relief from abusive relationships, help to kick addiction of drugs and alcohol, a set of clothes that aren’t tattered, a meal that is more than broth.

Women’s Center

Those at the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center are proud to be located in the middle of town because the last thing they want is to be shoved into some back corner as if there should be a stigma attached to their services.

“People who are victims of violence don’t have anything to be ashamed of,” said Lois Denowitz, the center’s community educator.

Despite the name, the Women’s Center also provides services for men and families. Appointments are not needed, phone lines operate 24 hours a day. There are separate group sessions for men and women who have been accused of battery.

Things have not changed much through the years — still 95 percent of the women who are battered have taken the beating from someone they love.

Much of the $1 million plus budget comes from the county, state and federal governments. Private donations and service clubs add a considerable chunk as well.

Paperwork is a constant. Statistics are vital to secure grant funding as well as to change laws, Denowitz said.

Because people in an emergency do not usually pack a suitcase, the Women’s Center has a pantry of sorts stocked with the essentials — toys, diapers, baby food, car seats, games, food and clothes.

“This is a stepping stone to self-sufficiency,” Denowitz said. “We work on clearing up credit, getting them into permanent housing.”

The center has a duplex it uses as transitional housing.

“Our greatest need is volunteers and donations to the building fund,” Denowitz said.

EDC Social Services

Having all of the moving parts linked together is helping the staff at the El Dorado County Social Services in South Lake Tahoe better serve their clients.

An employment services coordinator, Child Protective Services employee, employment and training worker, rehabilitation coordinator, eligibility supervisor and special investigator can all be involved in getting a person onto a path of self-preservation. Not every client needs each specialist.

Hector Reyes is a rehab coordinator. He is seeing 90 clients, while his counterparts in Placerville have caseloads of 45.

Ramona Kluever is an eligibility supervisor. As of mid-August she knew of 700 people on food stamps and 220 people receiving cash aid through the county living in the basin.

The county cannot dictate where the money goes, thus the reason that budgeting classes are provided by One Stop. Job One is the governing board of One Stop. The services are also available to the general public.

Welfare reform has cut in half the number of people the county sees.

“There is a cumulative time limit of five years in the system,” explained Janet Seidman-Damas, employment services coordinator.

But at the same time Larry Hubson said the number of cases he is seeing at CPS is “going through the roof.”

Not everyone who needs help can get it. There are numerous opportunities for people with children, but the single adult in need of aid has limited options.

“Another barrier with the new welfare laws is that drug offenders can’t get a lot of services if there is a drug felony on their record,” Hubson said.

Convicted murders, though, qualify for aid.

“The program is not a handout anymore. It’s an opportunity to better themselves and get off the system,” Reyes said.

Matt Monterosso is a special investigator who mainly deals with welfare fraud. He must contend with the 107 active referrals on his desk all alone because his boss has been activated by the military. Placerville has 500 active cases.

The group says there is no typical client. They see people who have hit bottom whether it be because of an addiction, divorce or job loss.

Like agencies across California, it is contending with the inability to fill vacancies and the need to cut services to make ends meet.

What keeps them coming to work every day is seeing kids wanting to break the cycle and knowing as a group they can help make that a reality.

Sierra Foothills AIDS Foundation

A 19-year-old is the last person Maxine Alper knows to have tested positive for AIDS.

As director of client services for the Sierra Foothills AIDS Foundation she is well aware that another generation is falling victim to this deadly disease.

“Part of the problem is that young people know there is treatment,” Alper said.

In the United States more men than women live with HIV/AIDS, while worldwide it’s split evenly. Worldwide there are 42 million people living with the virus.

Women and youth are the two segments of the population which are contracting the disease at an escalating pace.

“Part of the problem is people don’t get tested,” Alper said. “They are afraid to. They don’t think their partner would be a problem.”

Her group, which services El Dorado, Placer, Nevada and Alpine counties, can help people get the confidential test. It also helps families who have a member who has tested positive.

And even though there are drugs, there is no vaccine nor are the drugs 100 percent cure-alls.

“The medicines are really toxic for people. We are now seeing the failure rate for a lot of drugs. People are developing a resistance,” Alper said.

Cost is another factor. She said some drugs cost $20,000 a year, with many people needing a combination of medications.

SLT Senior Center

Lunch is served. It’s a welcome refrain to the 40 to 70 people who show up for the noon meal at the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center.

For those unable to drop in, the group delivers about 70 meals to homebound seniors.

The county runs this federally funded program. A donation of $2.25 is voluntary and there is no age requirement to dine. Meals are provided Monday-Friday. Snowbirds are regular clients — not just locals.

It’s not just food that is served, but recreation classes, computers with Internet connections and a library are available.

Rides are provided for free on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for seniors wanting to run errands. Between five and 10 rides a day are given.

Sierra Recovery Center

“Folks say we save their lives … we give them another chance,” explained Betsy Fedor of Sierra Recovery Center.

Hers is an agency that has a handful of transitional housing units that allow people to pull themselves together before entering mainstream society on their own again.

“By the time people see us they don’t have a lot of things left,” Fedor said.

Most people they care for are from the South Shore, though a few hail from Reno, Alpine and Placer counties.

The sketchy economy has taken its toll on the agency. It has 16 funding sources for its $1.2 million budget. Fedor knows that being named the South Lake Tahoe nonprofit of the year has helped keep Sierra Recovery in people’s minds when it comes time to donate to a charity.

In addition to finding the money to help people with their drug and alcohol addictions, Sierra Recovery has a hard time keeping employees. People are leaving for higher paying jobs and those who stay struggle to afford to live here.

Other organizations

There are other groups in and around the basin which strive to get people on the road to recovery that are deserving of the community’s support. Many who work or volunteer for them do so without recognition but with the knowledge they are helping society as a whole.

There is the Rite of Passage that works with troubled teens. Its mission is to be “an academic, vocational and athletic program dedicated to improving the lives of youth.”

There are Choices for Children, Tahoe Youth and Family Services, the Family Resource Center, CASA, Bread and Broth, Tahoe Area Coordinating Council for the Disabled, Christmas Cheer and the Cancer League.

Then there are the service organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions and Soroptimist which have their own special way of giving back as well as to the groups mentioned above.

— Kathryn Reed may be reached at kreed@tahoedailytribune.com or (530) 541-3880, ext. 251.


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