In the few weeks since she set up shop at J.G. Commons, Michele Kimble has been able to help one resident reduce the amount she pays for her cable service.
She’s filled out Medicare paperwork for another resident, helped an elderly woman craft a will and acted as a facilitator between two residents who were in a conflict.
“Some of the issues we take for granted can sometimes overwhelm people,” she said.
Kimble provides support services, she added, so that the elderly residents of the 21-unit building owned by Vashon HouseHold can “age in place.”
“Growing old with dignity and respect and joy means more than having a roof over your head,” she said. “It means social support. It means feeling a sense of belonging and purpose.”
Vashon HouseHold hired Kimble in October as part of a new effort by the nonprofit to provide “supportive housing,” case management and advocacy that can help residents secure services and address a range of needs, said Chris Szala, its executive director.
Vashon HouseHold received a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to hire Kimble, who works three days a week at J.G. Commons. Szala says he hopes the organization — the only provider of affordable and below-market rate housing on Vashon — can expand this kind of support work to the three other apartment buildings it owns, Eernisse, Charter House and Mukai Commons.
The organization is not straying from its core mission by providing services, he said. Rather, he said, “We’re taking the notion of a community land trust to a new level.”
It’s good to hold land in perpetuity for affordable housing, he added. “But people on fixed incomes need more than that,” he said.
Indeed, Kimble’s role is endorsed by the other organizations that make up Vashon’s Social Services Network, said Diane Kjellberg, interim executive director at Vashon Youth & Family Services.
One of Kimble’s many tasks will be to look at all the services on the Island and begin to put together a resource guide that a wide range of clients and tenants could use, she said.
“I think she’s helping the entire Island,” Kjellberg added. “She’s not overlapping in services; she’s helping to coordinate services.”
Vashon’s handful of agencies came together in 2008 to see where and how they could complement one another, Kjellberg said. “This is one more step in that process.”
For Kimble, an Islander since 2008, working with the elderly residents at J.G. Commons is both meaningful and enjoyable. A seasoned social services provider, she holds a master’s degree in counseling as well as a resume that includes a long list of jobs working with tough, low-income populations — including homeless people and those who are chronically mentally ill.
“I’m thrilled to be here,” she said last week, in between meetings with residents. “The minute I arrived, I felt a sense of being welcomed.”
Residents at J.G. Com-mons, who range in age from 62 to 92, say they’re also glad she’s there. In the lobby of the two-story structure, next to a Christmas tree bedecked with lights, Sue Knight, 76, and Lorraine Oliver, 90, said they’ve not yet needed to turn to Kimble.
“But she’s here if we need her,” Oliver said. “I have all my marbles, and I really don’t need any help. But I’m sure the day’s coming.”
“We had a really nice long talk yesterday,” she said, looking up from her knitting and smiling at Kimble. “I don’t have any problems living here. But if I had a problem, I could go to her.”