Guardians, restorers protect, celebrate the vulnerable | News, Sports, Jobs | Wender Mind Kids

 Guardians, restorers protect, celebrate the vulnerable |  News, Sports, Jobs

News photo by Julie Riddle Dan Lewis, in red, concentrates as he tosses a beanbag during a game of cornhole at a birthday celebration hosted by Assisting Services in Alpena and held at the Parker House Resort and Restaurant on Thursday.

ALPENA — Cornhole, hamburgers and gentle talks at the edge of a lake celebrated the lives of vulnerable people who want to have a little fun just like everyone else on Thursday.

“They are just like you and me. They want to go to parties,” said Chelsea Martinez, Alpena office manager for assistance services.

The agency held a joint birthday celebration at Alpena’s Parker House Resort and Restaurant on Thursday to honor the people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, dementia and other disabling circumstances in the agency’s care.

During Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Awareness Month in June, Michiganders are taking note of the more than 73,000 older adults in Michigan who are at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Others, not yet old, are victims of fraud, theft, neglect, and other abuses—often at the hands of people they love and trust.

News photo by Julie Riddle Mina Mason, left, gets wet toes while Amanda Schuelke, an administrative worker at Assisting Services in Alpena, looks on.

Assisting Services, like several other agencies in Alpena, protects people assigned to them by a court who are unable to make financial, legal or medical decisions for themselves.

Conservators and guardians like those at Assisting Services champion the rights and safety of the people they serve, standing between vulnerable people and those they seek to exploit.

The job is tiring and few people want to do it, Martinez said, saying that the agency, like many others, has struggled to find enough staff to care for the people they love as family.

The care they provide makes the difference to those protected by their efforts, said Crystal London, one of the honored guests at Thursday’s birthday celebration.

It’s hard to accept help, she said. But the staff who come to her house several times a week help her have as much as possible of what she values ​​most – independence.

News photo of Julie Riddle James Walsh, right, celebrates after getting a bean bag chair through a hole in a cornhole game during a birthday celebration sponsored by Assisting Services in Alpena and held at the Parker House Resort and Restaurant on Thursday.

“It makes me think I can do things on my own,” London said.

Birthday party attendee James Walsh cheered as he scored a hole-in-one during a friendly cornhole game and said the financial help from Assisting Services is helping him mature and focus on the future.

The cheerful Michigan Special Olympics competitor, who likes to talk and works almost full-time, knows he’ll need that protective help for a while, he said.

Anyone can unexpectedly encounter a mental illness, develop dementia or suffer a head injury that leaves them unable to make decisions in their own best interests, said Kathleen Robson, owner of Assisting Services.

The agency has served accountants, technology professionals and people with advanced degrees who have lost thousands or even millions of dollars to “Jeff in Dubai” and other scammers because they lost their ability to make smart decisions, Robson said.

News photo by Julie Riddle Mina Mason, right, and Amanda Schuelke, an administrative worker at Assisting Services in Alpena, examine a fossil taken from Long Lake at the Parker House Resort and Restaurant Thursday.

Anyone can fall for a scam, but people with developmental disabilities or other conditions that affect their ability to make decisions are even more at risk because of their vulnerability, she said.

People with such challenges can end up living in squalor or homelessness because they are unable to stand up for themselves. They can endure serious illnesses without treatment because they don’t know how to get help, Robson said.

Conservators – who take control of a vulnerable person’s financial life – and guardians, who take on other decisions, form strong bonds with the people they serve and sometimes become both friends and family members of people who don’t have either or whose loved ones have tried to exploit their vulnerability, Robson said.

She receives calls from agency staff at all hours of the day and night. On a morning she kept track of, she made 80 phone calls and four court hearings before noon.

A regular customer, she said, had called at least once a day and often more often for the past four years.

Between calls to doctors and dentists, banks and credit unions, mental health agencies and caseworkers, conservators and guardians are on the road non-stop throughout the day tending to their charges every day. Still, building relationships with them — and treating them the way anyone would want to be treated — must be a top priority, said Amanda Schuelke, administrative support officer at Assisting Services.

At Thursday’s birthday party, Schülke and party guest Mina Mason cooled their toes in Long Lake, found fossils in the clear water, and chatted peacefully about children and families and life.

It takes a village to protect its most vulnerable, and conservators and wardens are fighting bitterly to ensure the village stands up and does its part, Schuelke said.

But when they’re not chasing scammers and skimming through phone calls, they might be taking a moment to eat a burger or toss a beanbag with the people they’re protecting.

The Mason’s Assisting Services staff help her where she needs it, but they’re also her friends and “someone to talk to,” Mason said. “So you don’t have to be so lonely.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.

To report suspected abuse

If you suspect abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult, call the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Adult Protective Services hotline 855-444-3911 anytime day or night to make a report. Staff will investigate allegations within 24 hours of receiving the report.

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