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FERNDALE – Imagine that for the past four years you were bedridden due to a debilitating bone disease. Now imagine that you are also lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. Imagine the possibilities for loneliness and isolation.
Cindy Mudryk of Southfield doesn’t have to imagine this. She lives it every day. LAS helps women like Mudryk with some of life’s most basic things in order to improve their quality of life. Whether it’s a drive to a doctor’s appointment, helping out with laundry, or just being a companion to go see a movie with, LAS volunteers are there. For four and a half years, Lesbian A-Sisters (LAS) has been helping differently abled women in Michigan live more independent and rewarding lives.
Because of LAS, Mudryk is no longer lonely or isolated. Because she can’t leave her home, the monthly LAS social support group meets there giving her a chance for social interaction. “It enables me to see people that I wouldn’t normally be able to see because I’m not able to get out of the house,” she said.
The social support group is also a much appreciated service for Carol Plueddemann and Diane Southen of Madison Heights. The couple has been together for 30 years. Both are disabled. Plueddemann must use a walker and has end stage renal disease which requires her to be hooked up to a dialysis machine from 6:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. nightly. Both women were looking for a social group that met during the day.
“Our problem was we couldn’t get out in the evenings because of Carol’s dialysis and all the social groups tend to meet in the evenings. So you get a little isolated,” said Southen.
But things have changed now that they’ve been attending the social group, according to Southen. “What we do is we come together and we have a very nice social time and it’s very enriching because there’s a flow of communication and sisterhood. You leave there with new friends and you might even want to call someone that you’ve met there and talk about something you might want to do on the outside,” she said. “It’s just something we really look forward to.”
Southen and Plueddemann have also received assistance from LAS moving from a tri-level to a single level house because the stairs became too difficult for the women to navigate. And a LAS volunteer even took Plueddemann Christmas shopping so that she could get a gift for her partner and keep it a surprise.
Other consumers also had high praise for LAS. “Being legally blind I would not have the life I have if it wasn’t for LAS,” said K.D. Hendricks of Berkley. “I am just overjoyed to have them and I encourage anyone to volunteer or donate or do anything to keep this organization going. It’s a marvelous organization.”
“I think it’s one of the best causes our community has,” said Mudryk. “There are so many people who have disabilities who are afraid to reach out or don’t know anywhere to reach out to. LAS is willing to do almost anything they can to help people out. They don’t question or grill you about. ‘Well how disabled are you?’ or ‘What’s your disability?’ You call them and they’re there. It runs the gamut of people who are differently abled.”
LAS began when founding member Martha Charles, a differently abled woman who uses a wheel chair, wanted some help with daily tasks while also maintaining her independence. Founding member and former Midwest AIDS Prevention Project (MAPP) employee Candice Moench brought LAS to MAPP.
“There really wasn’t an organization backing it and they didn’t have the money to start on its own,” said Angie Kaiser, MAPP Program Coordinator. “So she brought it to MAPP and MAPP allows LAS to use its space, use its computers. Craig (Covey, MAPP’s CEO) allows me to use a small fraction of my time to promote and to plan special events and that kind of thing.”
LAS has only one paid staff member. Monica Mills is the Volunteer Coordinator for LAS. Her position came out of a grant LAS received from the HOPE Fund. She works part time for LAS and part time for MAPP.
Currently LAS serves about 20 consumers from all over Michigan. “There have been more over the years,” said Mills. “Some need our services for a short time and then do not need them any more and might become volunteers. Some have moved away, some have passed away.” LAS serves mostly the Tri-County area of Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne counties but they have people as far away as Monroe and Alpena who they keep in contact with.
“We have some people that just require a phone call,” said Kaiser. “There’s a woman who I call probably about once a month, that’s the woman that’s in Monroe County, and she just needs us to check in on her here and there. We’re kind of far from her so we can’t really do a lot for her but we try to keep in touch with her to see if she needs anything, needs us to come out there for any reason. So a phone call would be one of the most simple things that we would do for someone.”
This holiday season LAS delivered Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets to their consumers to brighten their holidays. They’ve also helped several couples move.
“That’s a big thing because if you have women who aren’t able to lift heavy objects then they’re going to need help and they may not have family to help them,” said Kaiser.
The services offered by LAS are free to the consumers, but not necessarily free to LAS. Although LAS is a program of MAPP, they receive no direct funding from MAPP. The two organizations have completely separate budgets.
Some of their expenses include the creating and distribution of their newsletter that is mailed to a list of close to 500 people on a quarterly basis. They also try to reimburse volunteers for mileage either directly or by compensating them with gift certificates. In addition, LAS often gets tickets to community events for consumers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to participate. Although some gift certificates and tickets are donated, LAS does sometimes foot the bill.
This month LAS is debuting a new fundraiser they hope will be successful enough to become an annual event. Shiver is billed as “a celebration of women’s music” and will feature community favorite Barb Payton as well as Blair & Afeni from Urban Folk Collection, Millenary, The Decline, and MC Kalimah Johnson. All of the proceeds will benefit LAS.
For more information about how to volunteer or how to receive services call LAS at 248-545-1611 or 1-800-542-2447 and leave a message. You can also visit their web site at www.lesbianasisters.org.