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POLK COUNTY — As a former caregiver, Elijah Friday noticed a crack in the system. After 15 years of working with many people of different health backgrounds, he realized what they all had in common was a lack of health care assistance.

Now a gerontologist and health educator for the aging population, Friday founded the nonprofit Aging With Support to help seniors navigate their medical benefits.

“It was from there I decided to devote myself to older adults in need, with a focus on rural areas,” the 35-year-old Friday said. “Rural communities have fallen short of essential health care access and our organization advocates for better and quality care in those hidden regions.”

He made Polk County the center for providing those services. Since establishing Aging with Support in February 2019, Friday said they have served more than 500 residents ages 65 and older in Polk, Yamhill, Lincoln and Marion counties.

“We were quite successful for such a small entity,” Friday said. “After we meet our clients needs, we survey them and a majority of them reported they were highly satisfied.”

Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, hampering the services Friday and his team provided. Working with a population vulnerable to COVID-19, Friday said they had the daunting task of transitioning their services, and curtailing their in-person contact.

“The services we provide requires us to be hands on. It’s kind of difficult to do that one-on-one, providing transportation, being a resource for people,” Friday said. “We have been able do continue some of that over the phone, but it’s been challenging.”

To help individuals and businesses through the economic shutdown, the U.S. Congress passed the CARES Act in March, 2020, a stimulius package totaling $2.2 trillion. The state of Oregon received $1.4 billion in its share of the funds. Gov. Kate Brown set aside $62 million of these dollars to create the Oregon Cares Fund, designed to specifically help Black-owned businesses through the crisis.

The Council of Trust, a group of Black leaders across state, was tapped to help oversee and administer the funds. Sheleswau Crier, a member of the Salem based organization, said it was vitally important the state set aside the funds that would help an underrepresented segment of the population.

“Historically, Black-owned businesses don’t have the same access to venture capitalists, to loans, or even the relief funds from earlier in this year,” Crier said. “Black-owned businesses were less likely to receive (CARES Act) funds than other businesses across the state. The Oregon Cares Fund makes a huge difference. We applaud the state for making this effort to make sure to help the most vulnerable, as COVID hits the Black community at a disproportionate rate.”

Grants were awarded on a rolling basis starting early October. So far, the Oregon Cares Fund has awarded $49 million to 12,000 individuals and families and more than 400 businesses and nonprofits across Oregon. In all, $154,180 has been awarded to 55 Polk county residents and one non-profit.

Friday said Aging with Support received a little over $30,000 from the Oregon Cares Fund, which they put toward purchasing PPEs for their volunteers, to protect them and their clients, wages and other programs. 

“It was important the state recognized that Black businesses and the Black community were most effected by the crisis and addressed a way to rise up from that adversity,” Friday said.

Going into the new year, Friday said the hope for Aging With Support is to continue to build its clientele, expand its services, and rebuild those services that had to halt due to the pandemic. Friday said that includes engaging with more with community food banks for their clientele who cannot utilize those in-person services.

“I strongly believe in our mission statement and acknowledge the value of aging adults by providing them the lifelong health care tools and resources they need,” Friday added.

To learn more, go to https://www.aws1.org.

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