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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Community Living Connections helps keep seniors, disabled in homes

 

Ray White likes to tell people what they can do, rather than what they can’t do.

Ray White coordinates Community Living Connections.

He is director of aging and disabilities services with Community-Minded Enterprises (CME) in Spokane, which recently began the work of helping people stay in their homes by informing them of services through Community Living Connections (CLC).

CLC is a subcontractor of a federal program that drives funding through Aging and Long Term Care networks. Recently bids opened to run the program, and CME was awarded the contract with Aging and Long-Term Care of Eastern Washington.

The addition of this program is one of a number of changes at CME, which recently moved Ray’s programs from the Community Building at 35 W. Main to 222 W. Mission.

Community Living Connections offers information and makes referrals to services, such as in-home care and personal assistants, for seniors and people with disabilities in Spokane County to help them live independently and stay in their own homes if they want.

Much of the work for the three staff members is done over the phone and with home visits with family and clients to review goals, Ray said.

 Other services to which they connect people are transportation, housing options, caregiver support or relief, assisted living, prepared meals, health insurance, mental health, long-term care, assistive devices, legal support/advocacy or counseling.

“We look at clients’ situations and let them know for what benefits they are eligible,” he said.

He and the staff also serve as navigators of state benefit programs, helping people sign up for different public programs.

Ray, who is responsible for other programs with Community Minded Enterprises, works part time with the CLC program.

“We have several hundred calls a month from people who need assistance for a family member or friend,” he said.  “The staff has databases of local resources and is developing new ways to help people.”

Recently staff became proficient in helping seniors and disabled people find volunteers to shovel sidewalks.  In the first two weeks of January, they had 100 calls.

To recruit those volunteers, staff reached out to companies that offer employees time to do two-to-nine hours of volunteer work each week.  Some are also from churches, which have a mission to provide volunteers.

“Washington state is progressive on providing services.  In 2010, CME was part of the development of a local Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) and in 2012, CME also subcontracted as a partner to develop the local advisory group for that program,” Ray said.

CME also partners with Meals on Wheels providers.  They also refer people to mental health care, assistive resources, legal services and options counseling.

Ray has been with CME since 2008.  From 1988 until then, he worked with SL Start as director of employment services for people with disabilities and low-income people.  He learned about CME because of contracts that went back and forth with SL Start.

From 1984 to 1988, he worked in Lewiston, Idaho, with people with disabilities seeking supportive employment and working with those with disabilities to find competitive jobs.

Ray grew up in the Napa Valley in California and graduated with a degree in American history in 1976 from California State University.  He taught a year and worked from 1977 to 1984 with Pacific Gas and Electric.  A relative from Idaho invited him to work in “the disability world.”

Growing up, he volunteered at a state hospital.

Ray has found it a fruitful time to be part of the disability world.

During the years he has worked in that field, “society began realizing that people who had disabilities also had many abilities,” he said  “New accessibility and employment laws opened doors for many people to become contributing members of their communities and to live independently.”

He married a nurse in Lewiston who found a job at Sacred Heart Hospital, bringing them to Spokane, where he began working with SL Start, a for-profit company, serving Washington and Idaho.

“There has been much funding put into community living options for people with disabilities,” said Ray.

He appreciates being back in the nonprofit world with CME, which he said is family- and community-oriented.

Five years ago, he had orthopedic problems with his back and two hip replacements, and CME let him work from home.

He oversees several other state programs under CME:

• The Plan to Work Program, funded by Social Security to help people with disabilities on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance make responsible decisions about work.  Some previously had resigned themselves to live in poverty, afraid they would lose benefits. This program encourages them to take a look at incentives that will allow them to work and not lose any safety net programs they currently have.

• The Exceptional Family Member Program works with Fairchild Air Force families offering respite care for families who have a child with disabilities.  The providers are put through a government process of background checks and training before they assist families.  Families receive a certain number of hours of respite each month.  The program signs up families and maintains a pool of providers from which families interested can choose.

CME started in 1998 as Health Improvement Partnership (HIP) of Spokane County.  On behalf of SL Start, Ray served on its disability advisory committee.

Ray said CME now has 50 employees serving in its programs that currently also include an ECEAP School in Browne’s Addition, Early Achievers to assist and support licensed child care providers, the Access to Recovery drug and alcohol recovery program and Community-Minded TV (CM-TV).

HIP was in the Paulson Building from 1988 to 2007, when it became Community-Minded Enterprises and moved to the Community Building.

In 2016, CME programs moved to other locations.  The CM-TV offices and studio moved to Third and Browne. Access to Recovery moved to the former Peaceful Valley Community Center.

 “We outgrew the space as we expanded programs,” Ray said. 

Ray, who was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, taught in the Christian Brothers School for a year.  He has attended different churches over the years.

“My faith plays a role in my commitment.  I believe we need to treat everyone equally and include everyone,” he said.

When he started in the aging and disabilities work, many people were segregated and put in nursing homes or institutionalized because of a disabling condition.

Spokane’s Aging and Disabilities Helpline at 960-7281 and its website at spokanehelpline.org receive calls from clients, guardians, advocates, care givers, family, neighbors, friends, health care providers, law enforcement and community partners in Spokane County.

Calls are answered 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.  Home visits are available.