By Donna Vickroy, Contributing Writer
“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright
Research shows that aging well and achieving a beautiful life often depend on a strong social support network and access to community programs and services.
Since 1975, PLOWS Council on Aging has been connecting adults 60 years of age and over, as well as adults with disabilities, their caregivers and friends, to resources they need to maintain health, dignity, and independence in their homes for as long as possible. Serving the 20 communities that comprise Palos, Lemont, Orland and Worth Townships, PLOWS helps more than 16,000 individuals each year.
Here are 45 ways PLOWS has been making a difference in the community for 45 years:
1. Sometimes accessing basic nutrition can be a challenge for older adults living independently or with significant limitations. Thanks to the help of volunteers, PLOWS delivers more than 62,000 nutritious meals each year to residents 60 years of age and over who are either temporarily or permanently unable to access food.
2. Sadly, older adults and adults with disabilities may experience abuse that takes many forms: physical, emotional, sexual, passive neglect, financial exploitation, or even self-neglect. PLOWS partners with the Illinois Department of Aging to investigate and address these sensitive, potentially life-threatening situations.
3. Your budget is part of the foundation on which you make your plans to age well. If you are living on a limited income, PLOWS may be able to put you on the right path and maximize your budget by helping you apply for benefits, which may lower your monthly expenses in areas such as utility bills, property taxes, prescriptions and other necessities.
4. Raising a grandchild? More than 100,000 older adults are primary caregivers in Illinois. PLOWS offers these individuals consultations, programs, and resources for financial assistance, as well as help with legal issues and self-care, and, in some cases, emergency funding so they can continue to provide a vital safety net to children under 18.
5. Did you know PLOWS helps adults with disabilities who are living at home? PLOWS advocates through Adult Protective Services and provides counseling to help identify various benefits that are available.
6. You don’t have to go it alone. Shared Housing is an affordable option for staying independent and enjoying companionship as you age. PLOWS has been matching people for a shared housing experience for 30 years!
7. PLOWS keeps you informed. When the pandemic began, PLOWS was one of the first to quickly organize a local healthcare event with a leading infectious disease expert to inform and educate the community about the virus and its impact on the aging community.
8. Caregivers need care too, which is why PLOWS organizes a monthly support group that enables caregivers to share information and ideas, and provide one another with emotional support.
9. It takes a village, a state, and a country. The Illinois Department on Aging, AgeOptions, Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois Department of Human Services, American Society on Aging and the Administration for Community Living are just some of the organizations that PLOWS partners with on an ongoing basis to provide an umbrella of care.
10. A broken heart does not have to mean a broken spirit. PLOWS offers grief support for older people struggling with the loss of a loved one or the loss of that person’s companionship due to illness or physical or cognitive impairment.
11. Medicaid, Medicare Parts B, C & D, and other healthcare programs can be complicated, leading to many questions. Trained professionals at PLOWS have answers and can explain eligibility, income and asset rules, options for a spend-down process, the differences between Medicaid and Medicare, and even assist with an application.
12. PLOWS’ trained care coordinators connect with clients and their family members to help create personal care plans, which may include a combination of programs, services and resources.
13. “One Call Does It All” is a favorite motto of PLOWS. Through this “call” to action, members of the community can begin the process of connecting to services or resources available in South Suburban Cook County. Just call 708-361-0219.
14. Have you heard of the senior citizen exemption? Don’t pay more in property taxes than you need to. PLOWS can help homeowners 60 years of age and over explore potential savings.
15. Before being discharged from the hospital, you might ask yourself, “where do I go from here?” PLOWS’ trained professionals conduct exit interviews at three local hospital systems to help you determine your options.
16. A Memory Café gives people living with dementia or other forms of cognitive impairment and their caregivers a chance to connect with others, participate in activities like art and music, and share tips and advice. PLOWS offers this service twice a month.
17. Every year, PLOWS celebrates “Community Champions” -- selfless older adults who volunteer to help their peers maintain independence and dignity. Visit www.plows.org to meet the 2020 Community Champions!
18. Language barriers can make it more difficult for older adults to obtain critical services. PLOWS offers assistance in Spanish and Polish and teams up with Arab American Family Services to help people of all cultures connect with programs and services.
19. Need help understanding the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps) program? PLOWS has the latest information regarding eligibility, ordering groceries online, coupons for farmers’ markets and more.
20. Don’t get scammed! PLOWS teams up with the Illinois Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) to inform the community about fraud trends and special alerts.
21. You are hardly alone in needing support. More than 16,000 individuals in 20 communities within Palos, Lemont, Orland, and Worth Townships rely on PLOWS' services each year.
22. They are always there for you. During the pandemic, PLOWS effectively transitioned its employees to remote access for everyone’s safety and wellness. PLOWS has continued all services without interruption and has added several new initiatives to respond to community needs.
23. PLOWS shares important information through special pop up events (now remote or socially distanced) with organizations such as the Blue Island-Robbins Neighborhood Network, Sisters Working It Out, Alzheimer’s Association, and National Night Out.
24. Medicare A, B, C, D …. who can keep it straight? PLOWS’ advisors guide older adults and their caregivers with clarity through eligibility, critical enrollment dates, subsidies, and options.
25. The reauthorization of the Older Americans Act has made caregiving a priority, which allowed for more than 2,000 hours of caregiving assistance organized by PLOWS last year. That is a 51% increase over the previous year!
26. PLOWS “Choices for Care” education program and in-home services decrease the chances of older adults being re-admitted to hospitals and helps ensure proper services are in place to avoid isolation.
27. PLOWS offers volunteer opportunities for children, teens, and whole families to help local seniors. Young people can bridge generation gaps while gaining understanding or even earning community service hours. Visit www.plows.org to learn more.
28. PLOWS has created an informative website for better communication, connection, and transparency. And more than 650 people have joined PLOWS Facebook page to stay up to date on services and events. Go to PLOWSCOA
and become a friend!
29. Social isolation is a concern for older adults. Social distancing can increase their vulnerability. PLOWS makes hundreds of calls weekly to conduct wellness checks with clients and these calls often help identify new needs due to changes in the clients' support system.
30. PLOWS is a proud member of four Chambers of Commerce. They value the exchange of ideas with the business community and the opportunity to connect with volunteers and leaders at The Chicago Southland Chamber, Heritage Corridor Business Alliance, Oak Lawn Chamber, and Orland Park Chamber.
31. The State of Illinois mandates that all people seeking admission to a nursing facility must be informed of all care options prior to admission, regardless of an individual’s income, assets, or funding source. Each year, PLOWS’ care coordinators conduct more than 10,000 screenings and assessments immediately prior to patient discharge at hospitals or nursing homes.
32. PLOWS prides itself on never having missed delivery of a single meal to any of its clients in 45 years. The nutritious home-delivered meal service doubles as a well-being check – necessary for individuals who experience social isolation.
33. As a convener of conversation and action, PLOWS regularly brings together elected officials, local law enforcement, members of the faith community and service organizations to brainstorm, solve problems and help aging residents in the south suburbs.
34. The number of LGBTQ seniors will double in ten years and PLOWS is working with SAGE (Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders) to ensure everyone gets the help and resources they are entitled to.
35. PLOWS brings together community experts to discuss and resolve some of the most complex and challenging cases of elder abuse and self-neglect. The volunteer Multi-Disciplinary Team (M-Team) includes more than a dozen professionals with affiliations in banking, law, mental health, and social work, or who belong to faith-based, medical, and housing organizations. Some M-Team members work for police departments, libraries, villages, and townships.
36. Are you looking for answers about health insurance? PLOWS’ certified Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) counsellors provide free services for Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers. They helped a client find a prescription drug plan that saved him $79,000, enabling him to afford all his medications.
37. Hundreds of volunteers provide time, talent, and passion to help PLOWS realize its mission. They share a strong desire to give back through community service and show support by delivering meals and assisting with benefits’ forms, as well as serving on the board and advisory council, teaching seminars, and conducting well-being calls.
38. Did you know that it takes more than 70 professionals to run PLOWS? The diverse team consists of social workers with advanced degrees and certifications, care planning experts, and individuals with backgrounds in areas of safety, mental health, and disabilities. health, and disabilities.
39. Caregiving can take its toll … so, at times, give yourself a break! PLOWS’ Respite provides a much-needed breather for informal caregivers, while offering temporary care for an older adult.
40. Supportive organizations help to extend PLOWS’ reach. For example, The Center for Disability & Elder Law (CDEL) provides free legal services to low-income older adults and people with disabilities throughout Cook County, while BEDS Plus brings together supportive services and trained volunteers to help those who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness.
41. Need help with meal prep, light housekeeping, or grocery shopping? PLOWS can connect qualified older adults to in-home services and resources.
42. Each year, PLOWS responds to 27,000 intake and referral calls. Whether you are looking for the nearest in-home care company or a care agency in another state for a loved one, PLOWS’ specialists can guide you to resources and connections.
43. The healthcare, aging, and disability environments are ever changing. PLOWS’ staff meets regularly to examine, discuss, and modify the approach to care and learn about the latest advances from local, state and national experts as well as through continuing education and certifications.
44. PLOWS convenes experts to offer free classes on a wide range of topics including planning your path to aging, navigating legal and financial issues, and training for informal caregivers assisting people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
45. Help community members gain access to essential services by donating to “PLOWS’ 45th anniversary, $45,000 challenge” today at www.plows.org! Make your gift even more meaningful by celebrating the memory of a loved one, honoring or recognizing someone important in your life or even creating a lasting impact through a legacy gift. All donations support critical programs and services in areas such as nutrition, caregiving, safety and protection, and housing. PLOWS earned GuideStar’s Gold Seal of Transparency – a tangible and meaningful designation that gives confidence and full transparency for donor funding.
Do you have an idea for how to make the aging process more meaningful and rewarding? Give PLOWS a call. They are good listeners. For more information, visit www.plows.org or call 708-361-0219.
Donna Vickroy is a South Side native who graduated from Richards High School and Illinois State University. She was a reporter, columnist and editor for the Daily Southtown, Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune for more than 38 years. She has received four Peter Lisagor Awards from the Chicago Headline Club, as well as numerous Associated Press and Illinois Press Association honors.