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‘Family’ Helps Downtown Aged

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My brother recently found this article about me by Cathy Lynn Grossman a staff writer for the Miami Herald in 1980…I really have been doing this a long time!  And my heart is still in it!  Here is an excerpt…

“Here are the blessings in the life of Rena Judge, 91:

  • Love. Bobbie, the blue parakeet, “kisses me all the time and say, ‘Momma, sweetheart, Momma sweetheart.”  He flies free in their little room and never tries to escape when she opens the door.  He has his own mirror for a toy.  The mirror was a gift to her from her late husband Arthur, who now smiles perpetual approval from a tinted photograph on the table.
  • Light.  The new management of the Johnson Hotel on NE Second Avenue where she lives, has moved her from her dingy west side room to one with an east view over a parking lot.  Morning light streams in four windows.  “I can see the vehicles.  I can see the people.  I can see a little. I can,” says the woman with clouded sky-blue eyes.
  • Food.  A volunteer from Gesu Church delivers a daily hot meal “right to my chair.” Rena Judge is too crippled by arthritis to walk to the senior citizens’ center for her dinner.  A neighbor cooks the hard-boiled eggs she eats for breakfast.
  • A friend.  Rona Bartelstone, 29, is Rena Judge’s friend.

Bartelstone reads Rena Judge her mail and tends to the bewildering paperwork that comes with subsidized rent, food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security and such.

BARTELSTONE KNOWS where the bathtub stopper is (on top of the sink) and how to tell it from the sink stopper.  She knows where the instant coffee is among the boxes marked “fragile hand with care.” And she knows whey the Medicaid papers haven’t come (because they aren’t due yet).

She is not patronizing or impatient or uncomfortable with age and infirmity, as if they would rub off.  Bartelstone knows objects slip from awkward fingers and dated disappear from the mind.  She speaks loudly, stands close and touches Rena Judge’s hand or should er – a warm friend softening brittle days.

The young woman directs Operation Mainstream, a program that reaches out to the downtown elderly squirreled away in the tinyapartment hotels from the Miami River to 15th Street from Biscayne Bay to the railroad tracks and government center.

As their rooming houses are topple fro the monoliths of modern commerce, Bartelstone and caseworkers assist in either relocating the elderly or helping them to survive elsewhere in the downtown are.  While other agencies find the places or pay the bills, Operation Mainstream focuses on helping the people make psychological adjustment to new circumstances. …”