REAL Services Aging And Disability Resource Center Connects Community With Vital Services

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REAL Services is dedicated to helping elderly and low-income people become and stay independent for life. If you or someone you love needs help during the COVID-19 pandemic, call REAL Services at 574-233-8205.

By: REAL Services + Home Comfort Experts

Julie Olson-Tobias is an adept Google user.

She’s the director of the Aging and Disability Resource Center at REAL Services, and she says that while the program is focused on connecting folks with vital services, sometimes callers just want to know the name of the bakery downtown; Julie and her team are happy to Google that for them, too.

“But if the need is: ‘I’m a caregiver. My husband has dementia. I can’t take care of him anymore. What am I supposed to do?’ then we’re going to spend some time,” she says. “That might be 30 minutes or more. And that might just be the first conversation. … I may present some options and the caregiver explores those and calls back with some more questions or needing some more guidance.”

Julie says that what the ADRC at REAL Services does is provide options counseling, which is supported decision making for individuals and their caregivers.

“We’ve got folks who are certified care managers who answer the phone calls,” she says. “The folks who answer the phones have the most compassionate ears, and beautiful hearts, and they are ready, willing, and able to help caregivers and to help older adults and folks of any age with a physical disability to know what their options are.”

In order to become an options counselor, a person must have at least a bachelor’s degree in human services or a related field, go through the appropriate training, and maintain continuing education credits, according to Julie.

“What we do is get the whole story and we find out what all the needs are,” she says. “Then we present all the options available to meet those needs. And then, in a really person-centered way, help the individual sift through all of the options to find the best way to meet the needs for them.”

She explains about a recent call where a woman was interested in meal delivery for her aunt and uncle, but they lived in a rural area where home-delivered meals were unavailable. She says they discussed mail delivery food options and the needs of the aunt and uncle so that the ADRC could help direct the niece to the right resources.

“It’s free, expert advice from really compassionate ears,” Julie says.

REAL Services ADRC is funded through Indiana’s Division of Aging through the Family and Social Services Administration. There are 15 Area Agencies on Aging in Indiana (REAL Services manages Region 2, which covers Elkhart, LaPorte, Kosciusko, Marshall, and St. Joseph counties). All the agencies are part of the INconnect Alliance, a singular branded service by the state, which also has online resources to help direct those in need to the service provider for their region and offers links to online resources.

“We practice No Wrong Door when it comes to government programs. And I think as much as we can, we provide No Wrong Door for any community program too,” Julie says. “We’re going to provide all the options and the resources we can find.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of calls that REAL Services is receiving as caregivers are worried about their older, at-risk family, according to Julie. She says COVID-related calls are now among the top five needs.

“We’re finding that it’s folks who were already on the fringe,” she says. “Then something COVID-related happened – they got COVID, they lost their job, they lost their housing – it just pushed them over the edge.”

Beyond COVID, Julie says that the largest needs right now are in energy assistance, financial assistance (rent), food, healthcare, transportation, major home repairs, and home health.

The ADRC is a free service. People may call 800-552-2916 toll-free between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday to reach the ADRC. You may also email questions to info@realservices.org.

“We’re nice people to talk to,” Julie says with a laugh. “Just give us a call!”

Do you or someone you love need help accessing food, prescriptions or other services during the COVID-19 pandemic? Call REAL Sevices at 574-233-8205 for help.  

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