Helping America's Most Vulnerable

The Ladies of Sawyer Street

The Ladies at Sawyer Street House

The Sawyer Street House is at the end of a cul de sac. It is a beautiful home with a large quiet backyard and lovely mature trees and gardens. You would never guess that the bustling city of Portland is just across the bridge. It is safe to walk in this neighborhood, without fear of traffic.

Kathy moved to Sawyer Street more than 20 years ago, before Volunteers of America bought the property. She tells us that she is very happy, and feels safe with our staff. She lives her life just as she wants to, and considers our staff and clients to be her family. Kathy hears voices, and responds to them. She hasn't been checked into the hospital since she moved to Sawyer Street.

One of our best ambassadors, Kathy makes friends and encourages others to join activities like her exercise DVD. She says she has never eaten so well as she has in the the years spent with Volunteers of America. Kathy attributes her longevity at Sawyer Street to the accepting nature of our staff and our agency, and our willingness to see her for who she is and love her.

With the help of her counselor, another client (pictured below) wrote this: "I wear a VOA pin proudly on my jacket because I love what they have done for me. I am a better person because of my hard work and the support I have received from my staff.The program has helped me and assisted me with achieving my goals. This picture of me cooking captures who I am when I feel good."

"A year ago this picture would not have been possible for me. I'm a happier person now than I was 2 years ago because of VOA."

She continued, "I recently moved to Sawyer Street, a group home in South Portland, and I am learning to make friends now. This is a very different thing for me. I miss my 1:1 staff time (at IRT). But staff here at Sawyer Street are trying to help me realize I can make friends here and fit in. I am willing to open up more and its easier for me now than a year ago. Some of my favorite staff members tell me how much I have grown. And a few of them still visit me here in my new home. They remain encouraging and I am thankful to all the hard work my staff from VOA have shared."

Another of our clients has lived at Sawyer Street for 13 years. Before she got sick, she was a school teacher and a nurse, and those parts of her still shine. "She was fine until she was 38, then had "a break," Marleigh Souza, Program Manager said, "Sawyer Street House has been a respite for her. She is always telling us, 'I thank God everyday for my room, I am so lucky to live here.'"

Welcoming New Housemates

"Staff often spend their own money to make the house a home for the ladies: little framed pictures, some nice curtains, small things that bring comfort," says Marleigh Souza, Assistant Program Manager, "It can take awhile for clients to trust new staff. Knowing that we are respectful of their home really helps."

When a new client comes to the house, she is welcomed by staff and her housemates, and given a few personal items to ease her transition. The women who come to our Sawyer Street House take great comfort knowing they will be allowed to stay as long as they want to stay, and for some it is where they will choose to live their last days. When someone passes, the whole house mourns their loss

A day at Sawyer Street begins at 7am with getting clients up and moving, taking their medications and having breakfast. From 1-3 are doctors' appointments. Throughout the day we run errands. There are 4 different medication times. If it is a light appointment day, they might have a barbeque or take an outing to a park.

The evening is time for grocery shopping, cooking (women help with meals) and one-on-one time for clients with their counselors. Everyone who wants to, gets to do something they want once a week, like visit a museum, go to a restaurant or a park, or just sit and have a cup of coffee at a coffee shop. It is a chance to have some quiet time.

The women work on their goals daily, like getting to know their housemates, getting to know their neighborhood, talking to staff and finding a case manager or doctor. They meet every three months to review their progress. And when they realize the progress they have made in their goals, their worlds open up.

"Our program is unique in that most of the women here grew up in a time where women were taught their place was in the home," Marleigh says, "They view themselves as retired. You have to enter their world and give them the respect that they deserve. We see them as people, not medical records, and we are coming into their home to work with them. When they feel bad that they have to ask for help, we remind them that they are good people and worth every minute of the time it take us to support them."

"It's not an easy job," she says, "but it is so rewarding knowing that we are helping the ladies get through their days. In some cases, we are their only family, and they become ours. We care about them."