MCALLEN — With less than a month under her belt as the program director of Silver Ribbon Community Partners, Janie Maldonado is still learning the ins and outs of running an organization that aims to help seniors and children with disabilities.
But her 15 years of working for communities and with nonprofit organizations prepared her to lead the organization forward.
“I realized that I liked working in the community, giving back and making a living off of this,” she said.
Maldonado is one of only two paid staff members in an organization built completely from the work of volunteers.
Some of those volunteers worked with Adult Protective Services and came across many clients who needed assistance with a light bill, were homeless or were facing eviction, so they started the program to fill that need.
Silver Ribbon, a nonprofit United Way Agency that services Hidalgo and Starr counties, is one of 21 groups selected to receive funding from AIM Media Texas Charities as part of its second annual fundraising campaign.
AIM Media is the parent company of the Valley Morning Star, The Monitor, The Brownsville Herald and the Mid-Valley Town Crier.
Maldonado took over the position in the beginning of January from Rose Ramirez, who began her tenure as the program director in 2010. Now, Ramirez serves as the community outreach specialist with the responsibility of spreading awareness about elder abuse to the community.
“A lot of people don’t know what elder abuse is or that it exists,” Ramirez said. “People say, ‘You mean someone actually hits their grandma or takes their money?’ and I say, ‘Yeah.’”
The two work out of two cubicles within the Adult Protective Services building, and their proximity is mutually beneficial because Silver Ribbon receives referrals from APS and vice versa.
To qualify for the program, the person needs to be over 65 or over 18 and deemed disabled by the state. Those people are the ones most vulnerable to abuse.
Often, their cases involve people who need assistance paying a utility bill or rent. One case, Ramirez recalled, involved a homeless, disabled veteran who was referred to them from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA gave him a voucher for an apartment, but he couldn’t afford the deposit.
“I’ve been here six years. I’ve never really had to turn anyone down because of lack of funds, and that’s a big blessing,” said Ramirez, adding that cooperation from different agencies is a big part of why they are able to help so many people.
Another big source of help is the donations they receive from the community. In addition to their two cubicles, they have a Silver Ribbon Room, where they store blankets, adult diapers, clothes, fans and hygiene products. They also receive donations from medical supply companies, which might donate wheelchairs or walkers.
In the winter, they hold a blanket drive, gathering blankets from the community, and in the summer they have a fan drive. If they’re lucky, they even get air conditioners.
“If the request is financial assistance, we also try to assess the whole situation,” Maldonado said. “We need to make sure that they have food and that they have someone who’s caring for them or helping them.”
“If we find that they don’t have someone like that, then we automatically refer them over to APS.”
Ramirez said when people hear “Adult Protective Services,” they fear they will automatically be taken away and placed in a nursing home. But it doesn’t work that way.
Unless the abused person wants to be removed or the state decides the person does not have the capacity to make those decisions, the government cannot forcibly take them away.
However, a big problem is that many people don’t speak out because they’re often trying to protect a family member.
“They don’t want to admit that a family member would have done that to them,” Ramirez said. “Especially with sexual abuse, it’s very, very rare that it’s a random act of violence.”
Ramirez estimated the agency has about 200 to 300 cases a year but said that over the years there were more than 3,000 reports of abuse just in Hidalgo County.
Moving forward, Maldonado plans to help the program develop sustainability and expand awareness; they hope to bring on a team of volunteers that can assist with outreach and help in educating the public about the abuses that occur throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
One case the group took on involved an elderly woman who refused to admit she was being abused despite the physical evidence.
“We got agencies involved. We had providers being put in the home, and the alleged perpetrators knew that people were going to be dropping in,” she said.
“That’s how we celebrate our successes — if someone isn’t hit again or hurt again.”