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Getting a Hand From Social Agencies

by David Spero, RN

Religion-based groups provide a variety of services, and you don’t have to believe in a group’s religion to qualify for help. For example, Jewish Family and Children’s Services in San Francisco has a clientele that is mostly non-Jewish. Catholic Charities USA also has a large percentage of non-Catholic beneficiaries. These groups usually have professional social workers to help match people with services they need.

Nonprofit groups range from national organizations like Second Harvest (a food bank) to local storefront health programs. These independent groups can be hard to track down and evaluate, but there are ways to get the information you need. Organizations such as the American Diabetes Association (ADA) provide advocacy services and a wide variety of educational materials and programs. The ADA works with organizations such as Lions Clubs to set up camps for children with diabetes. Rick Johnston, former ADA Vice President of Constituent Relations, notes that the ADA also works with churches to provide diabetes information and services. The ADA also provides legal representation to people facing discrimination because of their diabetes.

Informing yourself
How do you work with government, religious, and nonprofit agencies? How do you know what you need, what is available, where to find it, and what the rules are? It takes some research. Social worker Karen Weissmann encourages her clients to start with “support self-assessments.”

“When you’re feeling good and have some energy,” she says, “that’s a good time to look around. What are your supports? Where could you use more? Does your pharmacy or grocery deliver? What doesn’t your insurance cover? It’s not a problem list; it’s building up your team.”

If you identify areas where the team needs strengthening, you can narrow your investigation to appropriate resources. Weissmann calls this kind of research “being your own social worker.” For example, the ADA can answer benefits-related questions for all 50 states through their help line (800) DIABETES (342-2383). They also have online information at www.diabetes.org. The Social Security Administration provides a tremendous amount of benefit information through their Web site, www.ssa.gov. You can also call them at (800) 772-1213 (but be prepared for a long wait). At www.benefitscheckup.org, you can fill out an online questionnaire and receive a report on the federal, state, and local benefits and services available to you. This site, run by the National Council on the Aging, seems fairly current, but no national service can totally keep up with the maze of service agencies in large urban areas. (For more resources on social agencies, click here.)

If you’re up for some detective work, the Yellow Pages category “Social and Human Services” could keep you busy for a few weeks. Books like Be Prepared are full of resources, and some books on living with diabetes have resource lists in their appendices. An excellent manual on finding resources is Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, by Kate Lorig and others. Social workers at medical centers and senior centers often (but not always) know what’s available in their communities.

Many areas have centers that support independent living. These centers often have the most up-to-date and complete information on available resources. Many colleges also have extensive information on resources. The office in charge is usually called something like “Disability Services” or “Disabled Students Office” and will share information with you. Libraries and librarians are often terrific sources of information. The local United Way is always worth a call. People from your church, job, school, support group, or health center can also help. Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions describes a kind of natural-born detective (called “the natural” in the book) who has lived in a community for years and delights in hooking people up with available resources. It was a “natural” who told Julie about the housekeeping service that made such difference for her. So just putting the word out about your wants and needs may eventually get you an answer.

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