Opinion

Stan and Ollie just part of this heartwarming story

When I find myself beat up by the world, when I feel misunderstood and used and abused in a way most sad and discouraging — as one might feel when the world seems smaller and more mean-spirited than it is — it’s as if the stories that my heart needs find me.

Stories of people brave and true, stories of people who take it on the chin and rise above pain and pettiness, stories of people stepping up to fill a need without worry of loss or gain.

With these stories we can see that the world is not so small at all.

Jennifer Hardison brought me such a story. When I share a piece with you, you will exclaim, “That is so extraordinary.”

And, I’ll have to say, “But, it’s only a piece, it’s not the whole.”

When I give you more, you will say, shocked, “Amazing.”

Then, when I stretch it out length by length, you will marvel, “Could it be so?”

And, still I will have to say, “You know not all.”

And, finally when you have the whole, if indeed one can ever have the whole, you will say, “Ah, so inspirational.”

And, you will be right.

The story starts with Stan and Oliver. If you, like me, say, “Ah, Stan and Ollie! I know those names,” you, like me, will be aging yourself.

So we must clarify. Oliver is a 3-year-old Pomeranian-sheltie mix and Stan is the developmentally disabled man who loves him so.

Bernice Maxfield is a person who watches over and cares for them both. Or maybe they watch over and care for her? That’s where the story might get confusing.

Every day, rain or shine, Stan and Oliver would walk the perimeter of the Westbay Center greeting everyone they encounter as family or friend. Except one day, one day when an off-leash German Shepherd lunged at Oliver and before Stan’s horrified eyes, tore Oliver’s flesh to shreds, leaving his vital organs hanging on the sidewalk.

Two young men, in their late teens or early adult years, stepped in and managed to entice the German Shepherd to drop Oliver, who was rushed to Woodside Animal Hospital where he endured five and a half hours of surgery at the hands of good animal doctors, Michael Van Horn and Jeff Schumacher, who repaired all of Oliver’s wounds, including a lacerated liver.

As beautiful and horrible as this story is, though, it’s but a piece. As are the fervent prayers that Bernice heard her brother Stan pray through the night before emerging with tear-stained eyes and a bright smile to declare, “Oliver is coming home. I know. God told me.”

Oliver did return home, on Easter Sunday, to continue his work at the nonprofit Security Financial Services, where he serves as mascot for Bernice and her staff of three as they provide representative payee services to the elderly, minor children, individuals with drug or alcohol addictions and people with mental, physical or developmental disabilities.

Launched more than eight years ago by Bernice in response to a need she felt for a better way to help disabled people handle their finances, the organization works with the Veteran’s and Social Security Administrations, as well as the Department of Health and Social Services to insure that vulnerable people do not become financially victimized and that they have a safe place that helps them make wise financial decisions.

Often it is the Social Security Administration that makes a determination that someone needs a representative payee, other times family members reach out to the nonprofit for help.

In all cases, Bernice, her daughter Karla Harris, who serves as accounts manager; receptionist Barbara Winger and office assistant Yvonne Hestley offer classes in budgeting, home safety and food-handling while developing budgets for clients that emphasize self-sufficiency and independence.

They offer mock job interviews and act as overseers to keep clients current with housing recertifications and food stamp and medical benefit reviews.

At present, they are aiding clients in preparing for IRS stimulus payments.

A single mother, who raised four children in the South Kitsap School District, three daughters and a son, while caring for her brother, Stan, Bernice went three years without pay, using an all-volunteer staff to get the nonprofit to the place where it is totally sustainable.

“I was able to follow my dream by the grace of God,” she explains. Today she is able to provide a no-interest loan that serves as “eviction protection,” allowing clients to weather financial crises and stay in their homes.

The office also serves as a contractor with DSHS so that people can apply for basic food (food stamps) and medical benefits without having to drive to the CSO office in Bremerton.

“People aren’t always aware that they are eligible for benefits,” she said. “We help to take the stigma out of seeking help by offering a site that is warm, bright and friendly. There are a lot of proud people out there. We don’t want them to go hungry.”

Oliver provided a big part of the ambiance of the office setting, making clients feel at home with his little dog kisses and the warm, friendly wag of his tail. He joined the staff as a new-born puppy when Bernice’s youngest son, Daryl Johnson, was sent to Iraq for his first tour of duty.

With the young, married soldier now serving a second tour in Iraq, the small, reddish dog offers such a comforting, stabilizing presence and takes his job so seriously that people often wonder who is really taking care of whom.

Bernice was in the midst of a huge campaign when Oliver was attacked. A Port Orchard resident who moved to Belfair (and plans to move back), she frequented Starbucks daily, often purchasing coffee to send to her son.

One day she saw a sign that advertised that for every pound of coffee purchased, Starbucks would send a pound to service people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Intrigued by the “Perk up Our Troops Campaign,” she left her business card offering to help the company ship coffee to Iraq.

She was initially given 89 pounds, which she paid to send to her son’s unit for disbursement.

Some time passed before she received a phone call from a Starbucks’ manager, asking her if she was prepared to ship more coffee.

She never once thought to say no, even when the manager asked her, “Are you prepared for the volume you are going to get?”

A thousand pounds of coffee had been donated, most carrying personal messages to troops.

“Bless her heart,” Bernice said, “Jennifer stepped in and called KOMO 4’s Problem Solvers,” and the modest mother and nonprofit director found herself on television asking for donations as well as addresses.

Both poured in as quickly as the coffee. Utilizing her efficient staff, Bernice transcribes e-mail messages onto special paper printing each up to ship along with the coffee in priority mail boxes that cost $10.95 to send through the U.S. Postal Service.

Much of the coffee arrived as whole beans, and the Port Orchard Safeway consented to allow volunteers to spend hours at a time grinding the coffee that was then repackaged for shipment.

Occasionally, coffee beans are shipped whole accompanied by donated grinders.

“I feel good doing it,” she says about the coffee shipments, while showing off touching letters from family members of service people, including one from a Gold Star Mom (a mother who lost her child in wartime service) that reads, “Stay safe, you’re in our prayers.”

Surrounded by hundreds of pounds of coffee and with $6,000 in veterinarian bills, Bernice trusts that everything will work out. She points out all the people who have helped, from the two young men who saved Oliver’s life, to the “excellent, excellent surgeons, who I can’t say enough good about,” to the people who donated money to ship the coffee, to all the messages of hope meant from the troops to Jennifer and the crew at South Kitsap Helpline, who are organizing a spaghetti feed to help cover Oliver’s vet bills.

Bernice is thankful for everything.

“It’s all good,” she said. “All good.”

You can reach her at securityfinancial@hotmail.com for information on the nonprofit representative payee program located at 1341 Bay St, (360) 874-7975, as well as the Perk up Our Troops Campaign.

Contact the Friends of Oliver at Helpline (360-876-4089) for information about the spaghetti feed.

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.

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