Pathlights, which has served adults 60 and older and those with disabilities for nearly 50 years, has expanded its Path to Financial Stability Program, which helps residents of the townships of Palos, Lemont, Orland, Worth and Stickney apply for benefits.
This free service helps residents find energy, transportation, groceries, and savings on prescriptions, property taxes, health insurance, and cell phone or internet service. More and more was needed as prices rose.
Barbara, a customer who lives in Alsip, said the nonprofit means the world to her, especially given the rising cost of food, utilities and medicine.
“Without her, I wouldn’t know exactly what to do,” she said. “You are unbelievable. You are fantastic.”
Barbara, who is in her 80s, said Pathlights’ support to get good medical care is most helpful along with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, or SNAP.
“The most important thing is my recipes,” she said. “It’s pretty expensive.”
She knows from personal experience how difficult it can be to ask for help.
“I’ve lived in Alsip for many years and when I first went to Pathlights I saw some ladies who were volunteers and I thought they were looking at me,” she recalls. “I felt a little embarrassed for a moment, and then I was like, ‘Why? You are not living my life. I have to do what I need to do to make my life comfortable.’ I don’t ask for extras or things I don’t need.”
Barbara said she used to go to church with the volunteers and they thought she was fine even though she was in need.
“It happens, but you have to get over the embarrassment and try,” she said. “If you need urgent medical supplies or food stamps or anything else – your utilities – don’t hesitate to contact them to see what they have to say.”
She said the manager was wonderful and always got in touch with her or let someone else do it.
“They were very nice, helpful and personable,” she said. “I would like to commend the volunteers who work there and the Pathlights staff. They are looking out for your best welfare.”
Another customer Pathlights helps is Rita, 82, who lives in Orland Park with her roommate Steve, 92. She gets help with utility bills and Steve gets help with SNAP.
“I never thought in my life that we would have these needs, but it happened,” Rita shared, adding that a hospitalization in 2019 followed by three weeks in a nursing home changed her circumstances. “They are very helpful in many ways. They are nice.”
She said she doesn’t mind getting help for someone else, like her roommate, “but for myself, I’m embarrassed.” She tells people about the help Pathlights provides, but doesn’t say she receives services.
“A man said he had no place to live, and I said to go to Pathlights and see if they can help you,” she said. “I recommend them because they have helped so much. They don’t look down on you. You are helpful. They want to help you.”
Barbara and Rita are among the 1,800 Pathlights applications this year. New CEO Elaine Grande said about 2,800 people have contacted Pathights for advice and guidance on financial issues and benefits.
Grande said it’s critical to help as many people as possible regain financial stability, and the Path to Financial Stability program works on cost-saving programs to help clients reduce their overall living expenses, and ideally, to help them do the same help increase their monthly income and stay in their homes communities.
“This often complex process has become increasingly challenging for some as most applications are now completed online,” she said. “While the work has always been done, Pathlights has continued to develop and improve the program over the years.”
Thanks to what she called generous financial support from Lemont Township, Northwestern Medicine, and the Henrietta Lange Burk Foundation, the Path to Financial Stability Program was expanded. It is also funded by federal funds and other interested partners, as well as by AgeOptions and the Area Agency on Aging, which it supports through Title 3 funds of the Older American Act.
Businesses or individuals wishing to contribute to the program can click on the Donations tab at www.pathlights.org, contact the organization, or send a endorsed check to Pathlight’s Palos Heights office.
“Our experts will help you learn about, evaluate, assess eligibility and apply for cost-savings programs,” said Grande. “They support clients throughout the process, advising on the right documentation and then submitting the application for the client.”
She said customers who meet certain criteria can sometimes get direct assistance.
“Occasionally, Pathlights has resources available to help with specific needs,” she explained. “Currently, we can help with overdue utility bills, rent bills, and mortgage bills.”
The Illinois Department on Aging has also provided senior citizen emergency funds that can help eligible clients with some necessary expenses, such as dietary needs, personal hygiene needs, and emergency assistance, Grande said.
She said the economy has resulted in more people turning to the program.
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“We have seen an increase in incoming phone calls to request an assessment of the eligibility of all benefits,” she said. “Many customers who are already enrolled are calling to find out about other possible help as many people are struggling.”
Most people ask for help with rent and mortgage payments.
“That might be because it’s her biggest expense,” she said. “We are seeing rents rising significantly, which can be an emergency for regular earners.”
Trained staff collects information from potential clients about their financial situation and assesses their eligibility for available programs, providing them with detailed lists of documents required for application. Staff submit applications as documents are received and follow-up to ensure benefit is granted. The staff will also help with any grievance procedure. Information is available at 708-361-0219 or www.pathlights.org.
She said the organization wants to raise awareness because many people are unaware of these benefits. Some benefits are income and asset-related, while others, like the Medicare Prescription Plan D, which is open for enrollment Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, aren’t.
“Sometimes there are programs that people don’t know about and we want to be sure that we’re reaching as many people as possible,” she said. “I’m sure there are people out there who could save money. Who doesn’t need that?”
Melinda Moore is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.