How SOAR Changed Leo’s Life

A man sits at a table speaking with a person who is not in the photo.

Strategic Grants Support Aging Population

It was the mid-1970s and Leo was living a full life – he was employed, married, wrote poetry and made a little money on the side playing pool. A lifetime resident of Frederick, he was one of seven children growing up (six sisters) and says his mom was his best friend. And then, at 26 years old, he was involved in a workplace chemical accident that knocked his world off kilter, starting him on a path he couldn’t have imagined.

He says following the accident he spent years in and out of the hospital, was unable to work, and was on a lot of medication to deal with the injuries and pain. “That chemical leak sorta destroyed me,” Leo recalls. “I finally lost my sanity and was hospitalized.”

Years turned into decades. Leo says he was unable to work due to the injuries he sustained and illnesses that resulted over the years. It was a tough journey, but he says, “something kept telling me ‘you’ll be alright, you’re going to make it’ and some days that hope is what I lived on.”

Now 72, Leo says that a couple years ago he was in a really tough place. He was in very poor health and he did not have a home. In a series of small miracles, Leo was taken in by a family living in Emmitsburg and was able to eventually secure housing in Frederick. Once he had an apartment, he was connected with SOAR (Supporting Older Adults Through Resources, Inc.) and that connection altered Leo’s world again, but this time in a very good way.

A man speaks with two women on a porch.

Leo speaks with SOAR Executive Director Leslie Shultz, center, and SOAR Program Assistant, Judy White.

SOAR’s mission is to assist Frederick County’s 65 and older residents whose monthly incomes do not exceed $2,100, by providing financial assistance or accessing resources on their behalf. Frederick County’s aging population is underserved and growing. According to SOAR, there is an increasing demand for support and limited resources. The Community Foundation provided SOAR with a $51,000 grant to provide emergency financial assistance for low-income seniors who are aging in place.

“I had sorta given up on life because so many awful things happened,” Leo says. “But then I met [the people at] SOAR and I’ve never really had anyone in my life that wanted to help me like that.”

SOAR Founder and Executive Director Leslie Schultz says that their first priority upon meeting Leo was to help him get his health in check. SOAR sent an occupational therapist to assess home safety needs and based on those recommendations, purchased Leo an electric lift chair, walker and shower chair so that he could age in place safely. They also assisted with paying co-pays so he could see medical specialists.

SOAR then addressed concerns about Leo being isolated and lonely – they arranged for him to spend two days a week at Daybreak, a day program for seniors where they can engage and socialize with others, under the care of trained medical and support staff.  SOAR also provides food support for Leo.

Financial support and health resources mean a lot to Leo but what stands out the most for him is the way in which the assistance was delivered. Leo says he was always treated with respect and dignity by Leslie and her team at SOAR. He said they helped restore his faith in humanity after decades of feeling forgotten, mistreated and generally lost.

“I was severely injured in my life. I didn’t trust people because I was never compensated for the terrible things that happened to me. When I met SOAR, they were straight with me. If they couldn’t do something, they didn’t beat around the bush, they were honest and told it to me straight.”

More than anything, it seems that Leo has found comfort in a community of people committed to his wellbeing. He still can’t believe the family in Emmitsburg opened their home to a stranger and he counts his blessings every day that SOAR is in his corner.

“These kinds of things break my heart in a gorgeous way,” Leo says with a grin and shake of his head.