Community Connection: Western Reserve Independent Living CenterSubmitted by Pelorus Financial Group on March 31st, 2017
By: Andy Preston
As an insurance agent, an important part of my job is waiting – waiting on bureaucrats, underwriters, operators, and agency representatives. This was the case recently when I spent some time waiting for answers with Mary Stouffer. I reached out to Mary since I knew that she could help untie some knotty client cases involving applications for government assistance programs. That’s what Mary does.
Mary is an Information Specialist with the Western Reserve Independent Living Center. Her agency is part of a network of non-profit, community-based centers that support, assist, and advocate for people with disabilities. Mary mentions that in many cases “disability” can be defined broadly. The center serves Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana, and Ashtabula counties, and it also has contacts at sister organizations throughout Lake, Geauga, and Cuyahoga counties.
Because her agency functions like “an office without walls,” Mary makes the rounds every week to meet and work with consumers in Ashtabula county. Often her work involves finding resources for people in need and advocating for assistance on their behalf. It’s not unusual to find her advocating for a client at Job and Family Services. “I put on the WRILC badge,” she says, “and that gets me through a lot of doors.”
In addition to offering information, pooling resources, and advocating for her clients, Mary also provides peer support. A regular part of her job simply involves talking with people. People who’ve had a bad day. People in pain. People who need help grocery shopping. Mary bills herself as “somebody to call when you don’t know what to do.” She specializes in the art of listening well and knows how to address the special needs of others. Sometimes it’s as simple as teaching a new mom how to use a crockpot; or finding an automatic pill dispenser for a sightless senior; or helping a wheelchair-bound teenager file FAFSA forms for college. Whatever it is, Mary is nothing if not resourceful.
Mary’s resourcefulness is no less impressive than her credentials. She spent years working as a firefighter. She has volunteered at several aid organizations. In 2011 she won the Ohio Department of Aging’s Elder Caregiver award, which goes to caregivers who sustain seniors’ “independence and dignity with resourceful, loving care.”
Mary is a gem, but her time is in demand, especially since it’s free. After waiting together for almost two hours, Mary must leave for another appointment. Before leaving Mary notes how difficult it can be waiting just to have a conversation with those in need. “There are a lot of good programs out there,” she notes, “you just need to ask to see what’s available.” Whatever the case, deciding to ask for help often takes time. It can be the hardest hurdle to clear, simply because it’s the first. But Mary is a patient person. She doesn’t mind the wait.
Western Reserve Independent Living Center | (330) 373-3325