By AMANDA BEAM
Small yet strong, a tree grows outside Williams Emergency Housing Center in Jeffersonville. For some time, friends have scattered the ashes of those the house has lost on this hallowed ground.
Without a place to call their own during their lives, the homeless face the same fate upon their deaths. This memorial allows them eternal rest under the ever-expanding shade.
Four years ago, Marilyn Czape came to Haven House Services to tend these grounds. Now, the retired nurse cultivates so much more.
In a small corner office, Marilyn and her cohort Ann Receveur volunteer several days a week to address health concerns that residents of the shelter might have. Even the homeless who don’t live in the temporary housing can stop by and talk to the two about their worries.
Walking through the halls of center, Marilyn is something of a celebrity. People brighten in her presence.
“She’s easy to talk to and nobody’s afraid to talk to her. She’s not going to spill the beans on something,” said 63-year-old Kathy, a resident. “She should have been named ‘Smiles’ because she’s always so positive.”
Days in the shelter can always use some smiles. It’s easy to see troubles everywhere. During our visit, a woman asked Marilyn to take a look at her feet. Soon, an appointment with a doctor that takes Medicaid had been made.
Down a ways, as a barefooted toddler handed her a toy phone, the nurse checked with a pregnant woman about her last prenatal visit. The baby will come soon, the mother-to-be said with a look of relief on her face. Marilyn grinned.
Later, she spoke to a resident about his recent stint in the hospital. Homeless, with little to call his own, the man continues to battle back against the ill effects caused by his untreated brain tumor.
“A lot of times they just need somebody to listen,” she said. “They just need someone to care.”
And that was just 15 minutes in the life of Marilyn Czape.
Times weren’t always like this for the Jeffersonville resident. In the beginning, the retiree only came to the house as part of the Master Gardener Association. Gardens remained her primary concern.
A little boy with a scraped knee changed these plans.
Finding what medicine she could, Marilyn dressed the wound and the child went on his way. But, like an infection, word spread about her nursing background. Soon people began to ask her questions about other illnesses and problems.
“There just seemed to be so many needs,” she said. “You can’t even imagine all the things.”
Without money, health care for the homeless is limited. When those in need do go to free clinics, many admit they aren’t necessarily treated respectfully. Marilyn, with her warm hugs and reassuring touches, filled this void as best she could. Bigger yet, through time, the residents began to trust her.
Responding to the growing demands, Marilyn and Ann formed Haven House Health Services. Completely volunteer-based, the two women try and relieve some of the physical discomfort of the residents.
At times, the fix is as easy as supplying some over-the-counter medication to remedy a pain. With other instances, certain illnesses require further treatment that the nurses cannot provide. When this happens, the women work to find doctors and other treatment alternatives.
Yet even when these options are available, the money may not be.
“Some of them come in and they have nothing. Just nothing,” Marilyn said. “Even the ones that are fortunate enough to have Medicaid don’t have the co-pays to go to the doctors.”
To pay for these and their other efforts, Marilyn and Ann established a fund separate from the shelter. Donations cover basic necessities including TB tests and vaccines, not to mention co-pays for office visits and medication.
Especially during the winter, the need is great. So is the caseload. Another volunteer nurse would help greatly.
From a single seed of charity and hope, the mission of these two women has grown to assist hundreds of our most vulnerable citizens. Here’s hoping they continue to reap what they sow for decades to come.
Anyone interested in donating can contact Marilyn at 812-285-1197. And the pair always welcomes monetary contributions, all of which are tax deductible. Checks can be sent to Haven House Health Service, 1613 E. Eighth St. Suite 112, Jeffersonville, IN, 47130.
— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at email@example.com