When most people hear about Catholic Charities advocating for the vulnerable in Eastern Washington, they may think of our neighbors experiencing homelessness in downtown Spokane or at-risk children served by our advocacy programs.
We certainly are referring to them, but not only to them. In fact, one of the largest vulnerable populations we serve is elderly residents and people living with disabilities in our rural communities.
Catholic Charities Serves our Rural Communities
Did you know that more than half of the population in our service area—the 13 Eastern Washington counties—lives in rural communities? Eight of our counties are more than two-thirds rural, and three are totally rural (Washington Department of Health).
Our rural communities are critical to the identity and way of life in our region. They are the tribal communities who have stewarded our land since time immemorial. They are the farmers and ranchers who grow our food and the people who manage our rich natural resources. Many of us visit their beautiful communities to snowshoe or ski in the winter and to swim and fish in the warmer months.
Advocating for the Vulnerable Outside Our Cities
The reason some residents who are older or living with disabilities are vulnerable is because increasingly, living outside our cities comes with steep challenges. For example, some areas are only just getting the broadband internet access that is essential for modern business.
More critically, most rural communities don’t have enough health care workers to serve the aging population, a problem our region’s new medical school hopes to address. Just recently, the southeastern Spokane County town of Fairfield’s only doctor’s office moved more than 30 miles away, posing a challenge for residents of the town’s assisted-living community.
For those who are elderly or live with disabilities, having to travel 30 miles for a checkup makes you vulnerable to getting sick—or even just to getting lonely. It makes it that much harder to live with the same standard, and that much easier to fall behind. That’s what vulnerability is.
Our Programs are Available to Rural Residents
Catholic Charities honors our rural communities by managing programs that help them maintain the dignity of their way of life. We help parishes provide childbirth and parenting classes for young families. We manage affordable apartments for seniors, veterans and farmworkers. We offer immigration services. We provide emergency help with heating energy and gas.
One of our popular programs is Senior Services, which manages a state-funded initiative, Volunteer Chore Services, that connects volunteers with seniors and people living with disabilities. The volunteers help with basic household tasks, light yardwork and, most significantly, driving to the grocery store and medical appointments.
In some counties, 95 percent of the work these volunteers do is driving clients the long distances to services. Normally, this is a task that would be handled by public or paratransit, or even by an extended family member. But these are luxuries not all of our rural neighbors have.
At Catholic Charities, we see it as our responsibility in rural communities to be that extended family that helps honor and preserve a way of life.
If you’d like to get involved with supporting our programs in rural areas, contact Volunteer Services Manager Kassi Kain.