Helpful hands for the home – Local elderly couple benefits from county aid |

Helpful hands for the home – Local elderly couple benefits from county aid

Last summer, Claire Harris fell through her kitchen floor.

The 77-year-old – left disabled by three back surgeries and two knee replacements – had been scooting around the kitchen of her Rough and Ready trailer when a leg of the chair pierced the rotting floor.

She wasn’t hurt, merely “shocked,” Claire said Tuesday, reflecting on the mishap with her husband of 61 years, Ollie, by her side.

“That’s how we found out it was rotten,” Claire said of the floor. “We knew there was something wrong, but we didn’t know exactly what was wrong.”

The hole in the floor spurred a call to the plumber, who patched up the pipes.

With his help, and the assistance of the Nevada County Community Development and Human Services agencies, FREED, Pacific Gas and Electric, and other helpful folks, the Harrises now have a gleaming new kitchen floor, a new water heater and refrigerator, new plumbing in the bathroom and the kitchen, a carbon dioxide alarm, and energy efficient lightbulbs.

“There’s no way we could have afforded (everything), just absolutely no way,” Ollie said.

The couple survives on two social security incomes and additional federal disability assistance. Ollie has diabetes and emphysema, and he has had quintuple bypass surgery.

“We feel really very fortunate,” Claire said. “When you live in L.A., you kind of get lost in the shuffle down there.”

The Harrises lived most of their lives in Dana Point, a city south of Los Angeles, where they married when Claire was 16 and Ollie was 17. There, they raised their six children – five boys and one girl.

“We were able to take care of them fine,” Claire said. “You didn’t have to pay $150 for sneakers because they didn’t wear sneakers to schools then.”

While raising their children, Claire worked as nurse and, after returning from World War II, Ollie worked as a switchman for a telephone company, as an insurance agent for New York Life Insurance Company, and later as a handyman.

The couple volunteered religiously and Ollie served as the president of the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce. He proudly points out a plaque he received from the Orange County Board of Supervisors, thanking him for his volunteer efforts.

“We were doing what we could as far as volunteer work, but we’ve reached the stage now where I’m afraid to even go up and down the stairs,” Claire said. “It’s something that I think … if you can find a hour in a week, do volunteer because it makes you feel good.”

Ollie Harris continued volunteering when they moved north to be nearer their oldest son, Ron, 60, who lives in Grass Valley. Ollie helped at the Community/Senior Center installing handrails and fixing faucets for needy seniors.

Now, sitting in their cozy trailer, they are glad to reflect on their many years together.

“We’ve had a very good life, a very happy life,” Claire said.

Nina Bigley, a program manager with the county’s Community Development Agency, said that even though poverty is often hidden in Nevada County, there are many families like the Harrises who could use some help.

“None of the poverty is concentrated in a particular area; it’s sandwiched between (high-priced homes),” Bigley said.

Since July, her department has helped 97 families purchase new appliances and weatherize their homes and has subsidized heating costs for 920 households. Four families have received help buying a home and 92 families over the past few years have rehabbed their homes, thanks to the county.

“(The money) is meant for the community,” Bigley said. “Let’s spend it. We want to know we’ve tried our best.”

The Harris family is certainly thankful. Without the assistance, Claire said the couple would be “worrying about where the next loaf of bread would come from.”

Help is available

Types of assistance available to eligible Nevada County residents include:

– Weatherization – Provides energy efficient appliances and insulation assistance.

– Warmth – Provides assistance once a year with fuel costs.

– Housing rehabilitation – Low-interest loans are available for homeowners to improve unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

– Down payment assistance – Low-interest loans, up to $60,000, are available for low income, first-time home buyers.

For eligibility criteria and other information on these programs, contact the Community Development Agency at 265-7270 or visit on the Web.

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