Senior citizens are one of the largest groups of people in the United States who are often forgotten, with many having no family and no one visiting them. (Image via Freepik)

As a young child. I lived in Washington State in the ’30s in a boarding house owned by my aged uncle and aunt, where eight boarders lived, all men, and many whose ages ranged from 60 to 70 years of age. One or two had remnants of families, but most were alone, alone and lonely. Those men had nowhere to visit, nor anyone visiting them. I left that boarding house and those men behind a few short years later, never knowing what became of those boarders.

My 80-year-old grandmother lived a few blocks away, alone, but not lonely, for my aunt would bring her to our boarding house, where grandma would sit in a big chair next to the wood-burning kitchen stove, watching my aunt prepare those endless meals for the boarders. Grandmother’s other children would take turns taking charge of grandmother; grandmother had a responsible family who cared.

I’d like to talk to you about one of the largest groups of people in the United States who have been forgotten. Here in Santa Cruz County, many of these dear people live in small care homes, while others live in a community care facility.

And then there are the elderly orphans, senior men and women, living on their own, perhaps in your neighborhood; seniors who have no family at all. Many of these seniors are depressed and discouraged, with no one visiting them, they feel they have no worth. Many of these seniors are living on fixed incomes, many have low-income, and many may have disabilities that necessitates using a walker, support railings in the bathing area or even loss of strength in a hand.

Many, to make sense of why they have been abandoned, make up excuses for their families not visiting by saying that they are just too busy to visit and have their own careers to manage, or they live too far away to visit often.

While working in Valley Churches United’s food pantry for 10-plus years, l learned more about the day-to-day problems of our seniors aside from needing food. While waiting for their food to be bagged, so many of these sweet people would sit in a chair next to my desk and would talk…and talk…and talk. Some would talk for so long, I would have to beg off, as others were waiting to be helped.

This was frustrating for me, as these seniors needed more than just food. Many no longer could drive, their wall heater no longer worked, nor would their sink drain, nor would their faucet stop dripping. Small things to you and me, but not affordable for that senior to pay for repairs.

And there were the winter rains…gutters filled with autumn’s leaves, stovepipes needed cleaning, a broken porch step or a ramp for a walker needed to be repaired or added. Who would lift and put in place sandbags to protect entryways? Where to find “trusted” help? Who would pay for that help? This was the “plight” of seniors, many too proud to ask for help, and many without money to pay for help. The more I thought about this, the more determined I became to find a solution.

My first step was to begin talking about this idea to people busier than me, for I have learned to ask the busiest person I know for help if I want to get the job done. The more I talked, the more interest grew.

And then the unthinkable happened. A young man, Damian Lanctot, lost his life in a motorcycle accident on Alba Road in Ben Lomond.

Damian, carrying a small ladder, along with his wife Melissa, had been to my home replacing smoke alarms, which I had been unable to do, just two weeks prior to Damian’s accident. Over the next month, I learned of this couple’s commitment to their neighbors and anyone who needed help… “call Damian and Melissa” seemed to be their motto.

As the word spread about having a handyman program for low-income and disabled seniors, more people became interested, and it was determined we needed to organize as a nonprofit group. Named Damians Ladder, after one year, we became a 501c3 organization.

The Damians Ladder organization, designed for our seniors, both at Highlands Park in Ben Lomond and Scotts Valley, began with a three-part program. In Highlands Park, cooking classes along with lunch are taught at 11 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month, and at the Senior Center in Scotts Valley, a Soup, Salad and Let’s Talk Luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. the second Friday of each month.

The Let’s Talk part of the Scotts Valley luncheon is slowly expanding, and we do have time to talk; we will be talking about our personal needs more and more as our program grows.

The third part of Damians Ladder is the Handyman Program, which began in earnest late 2023.

Today, Damians Ladder has helped over 40 seniors with such problems as weatherstripping doors, gutter cleaning, lifting a toilet and a sliding door that was offtrack. We turned a senior’s hospital bed in her home to face the window instead of a blank wall…she cried tears of joy. Such a small thing for us, but huge for her.  

A wheelchair ramp and an electric lift-chair were provided, a refrigerator was repaired and moved in place, to mention a few problems we have solved. Six queen-sized sofa beds were delivered, as well as over 100 electric cooling fans were distributed.

This month (February), Damians Ladder is regifting 100 like-new Chromebooks to those seniors in need, with instruction classes at both senior centers. More classes will be added as needed.

I have resolved to spend the rest of my volunteering time working to grow Damians Ladder, enabling all of Santa Cruz County to increase the quality of life for our seniors by making their homes safer and more comfortable for those needing help. Not an easy task, and to accomplish this huge effort, we need more people to become involved in Damians Ladder.

We do not want our seniors to be part of the Forgotten Generation.

Along with more people, Damians Ladder needs more money to fund the Handyman Program. For donations…Damians Ladder, P.O. Box 66438, Scotts Valley, CA 95067.

If you are interested in joining this marvelous group of volunteers and Damians Ladder, email [email protected], call 831-200-1376 or just to talk, email [email protected].

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Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].


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