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June 17, 2020
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June 22, 2020

Senior programs sustain Potawatomi elder traditions

Like most Indigenous cultures, the Potawatomi hold a special reverence for elders. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation serves Native American elders through numerous departments and programs, including Title VI, Workforce & Social Services and the CPN Housing Department.

“I think elder programs are important, especially within our Tribe,” said CPN Language Department Director, Justin Neely. “A lot of times, the elders tend to be the fabric that holds the family together.”

Tami Fleeman leads bingo at the CPN Elder Center Christmas party.

CPN Elder Center

“Our goal is to help the elders age in place — to help them have their best life in their home if at all possible,” said Senior Support Coordinator and Elder Center Director, Tami Fleeman.

The CPN Elder Center is located at 2307 S Gordon Cooper Drive. And although it has been closed to hosting its regular activities, staff have served to-go lunches to elders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for $1. For information, call 405-214-5111.

The center also houses CPN’s Senior Support Network and Caregiver Program, all which are open to citizens of any federally recognized tribe within CPN’s jurisdiction.

“We know the majority of people that come here, this is their meal of the day,” Fleeman said during a Hownikan interview in February. “There’s always a mad rush for leftovers, but we’re aware that this is a very important meal for them. They are welcome to take home whatever we put out.”

Clients look forward to the center’s return back to normal, including daily bingo games.

“You don’t mess with that. They take (bingo) very seriously,” she said, then laughed. “The same elder calls every day.”

Along with daily lunch, the center serves as a community hub. Many take advantage of the Nation’s wellness center and diabetes program, located within the same building as the Title VI program. Elders can also utilize the center’s quiet room to watch TV, craft, fellowship, use the public computer and enjoy the comfy, plush chairs. Its lending closet also provides elders access to walkers, wheelchairs, bedside commodes, toilet rails and more.

“Some people have had surgery and might need them for three or four months, and then they’ll give them back to us. We’ll clean them up and keep them in our lending closet until they’re needed again,” Fleeman said.

Elder services, like so many programs under the Nation’s umbrella, is an extension of its dedication to the greater community.

“Natives, of course, are the people we’re going to serve, but we help so many people,” she said.

When non-Natives contact the program for assistance, they often provide referrals and contact information. The department works with area nonprofits to make sure nothing goes to waste.

“I love working here, and I had no idea the impact the tribes have. I mean, I have lived in Shawnee all my life pretty much, and I didn’t know they were building roads and bridges; it’s not something they toot their own horn about a lot — the rural water, all those things that they’re doing, it helps all of us, not just Natives,” Fleeman said.

Caregiver program

“The Caregiver Program is respite care for people who are having to take care of someone, and one of them has to be Native American — either the caregiver or the person receiving care,” Fleeman said.

Qualifying clients receive $600 over a three-month contract that allows for approximately 4 to 5 hours per week of respite care from whoever the client chooses, which is most often family or friends.

“We have a man that is 95, and he’s still a caregiver,” Fleeman said. “His wife has dementia and can’t be left alone, so he hired one of their cousins who she was familiar with. She comes in an hour to an hour and a half a day, Monday through Friday, so he can go exercise at 95. It was important to him to be able to continue to do that.”

Fleeman has seen the program help clients decrease their stress levels and combat burnout that caretakers often experience.

“You have no idea how much it helps, and it just gives them a release that they know they’re going to get every week,” she said.

Senior Support Network

Several medically-trained staff members oversee the Senior Support Network and visit clients’ homes to assist and asses their current needs.

“We want to keep people safe in their home as long as possible,” Fleeman said.

Home visits vary depending on the client’s needs.

“Some people we will see weekly, and some people will say, ‘Oh, you know, just once a month, but then if I get to needing it more often.’ That’s kind of how we get our foot in the door,” she said.

On at-home visits, staff check vitals and assist with other tasks as needed, such as vacuuming, and they work hand-in-hand with CPN doctors and health professionals to provide well-rounded care.

“If we’ve seen somebody for no telling how long and all of the sudden we notice a change, their blood pressure is up or their feet are really swollen that day, we can put in a note to their doctor,” she said. “We can keep their care monitored, even when they don’t have doctors’ appointments.”

Transportation to medical appointments is another key service within the Senior Support Network.

“We have a policy that we’re the transporter of last resort,” Fleeman said. “Most of them have vehicles but are not safe to drive in the city, and that’s where we transport the majority of our people is to specialty appointments.”

Fleeman often receives calls from CPN members outside of Oklahoma. Although CPN’s services are not available out of CPN’s tribal jurisdiction, many nation-wide services exist. She suggests utilizing the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator to find services across the United States at cpn.news/eldercare.

CPN’s Workforce & Social Services Department also offers additional elder resources, including community services, general assistance, training to lower utility bills, referrals and more.

CPN Housing Department

The CPN Housing Department’s Elder/Disabled Repair Programs provides funding to build or renovate portions of clients’ homes to increase accessibility including ramps, rails, door extensions and more.

“To qualify, they need to be an elder, which is 60 and older. They need to own their own home, and it needs to be free and clear of more than one lien and no reverse mortgage,” said Scott George, CPN Housing Department director. Those with disabilities become eligible at age 55.

The program serves Native Americans from any federally recognized tribe that lives within CPN’s jurisdiction. Other requirements include current homeowner insurance and up-to-date tax payments. The house must be the client’s primary residence. Additionally, their annual income must be within the 80 percent national household limit, as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Median Family Income Limits. For Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma, that equates to a maximum $40,850 annual income for a three-person household.

“It is basically to assist elders in maintaining the integrity of their house. And when we talk about integrity of a home, we’re talking mainly about the infrastructure of the roof, floor, walls and things of that nature. It is not used for cosmetics, so we don’t come in and paint, and we don’t come in and replace carpet just because they’d like to have new carpet,” George said.

Before beginning any project, staff evaluate each home to determine what repairs can help keep elders in their home and self-sufficient longer.

“Our main goal is to make sure they have a good roof, they have heating and air conditioning, adequate plumbing and water,” said CPN Housing Development Coordinator, Gary DeLonais.

Staff work with client’s insurance companies to ensure every dollar goes further.

“Because maybe the insurance company can pay to repair the roof, and we can pay the deductible; whatever we can do to help stretch that dollar amount we have set aside for them,” said CPN Housing Development Assistant, Tia Stewart.

For repair projects over $2,000, a lien — security interest in the property — must be put on the home. The client will owe no money back, regardless of amount, as long as the client does not sell or transfer the home’s ownership within the allotted period.

“We also do handicap accessibility along with the repair program, so if they’re finding themselves in a wheelchair, we’ll widen doors, change things out in the bathroom and give them a walk-in shower,” George said.

Affordable rental units through the department’s Low-Income Elder Housing Program also offer residences options in Shawnee at the Father Murphy complex, Citizen Place North duplexes in Tecumseh, Oklahoma, and CPN Elder Village in Rossville, Kansas.

For those who live outside of CPN’s jurisdiction, staff encourage reaching out for service recommendations.

“We definitely want to help, and we encourage them. We don’t say, ‘Oh, I can’t help you. Sorry.’ We always try to refer them out,” Stewart said.

CPN tribal elder resources:

Workforce & Social Services
1549 Workforce Drive
Shawnee, OK 74801
405-878-3854
800-880-9880
cpn.news/workforce

Title VI
2307 S. Gordon Cooper
Shawnee, OK 74801
405-214-5111
cpn.news/elders

Housing Department
44007 Hardesty Road
Shawnee, OK 74801
405-273-2833
800-880-9880
cpn.news/housing