Our VOICES OF LIHEAP series continues with a spotlight on Maudwella Kirkendoll, Chief Operating Officer of Wisconsin-based Community Advocates, one of the primary partners in the Milwaukee County Energy Assistance Program. Kirkendoll’s work on the front lines of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable families offers a personal perspective on just how critical difference energy assistance makes in their daily lives. In his own words, Kirkendoll shared:
“We operate three of six application sites around the county and do outreach at senior sites, schools, and community events. Community Advocates also developed the program’s online scheduling system, which has dramatically reduced wait times for appointments. We also staff the program’s Call Center. We’ve seen an increase in working families apply for LIHEAP. There has been a change in the eligibility guidelines, which allows more families to obtain LIHEAP benefits. We also reach out to seniors by going to senior centers and doing home visits so elders are able to easily apply for LIHEAP.
Milwaukee also has a dangerous combination of old homes, which are hard to keep heated, and a cold climate. That means many residents have a hard time covering their heating bills. Milwaukee County’s program also makes sure to serve vulnerable populations, such as mothers with children under the age of five, veterans, and older residents.
One way in which the LIHEAP program is truly life-saving is that it enables us to assist with furnace repairs and replacements. We processed at least 500 furnace repairs or replacements this year, which means those residents were able to keep warm and safe despite the frigid temperatures.
Without LIHEAP, there would be a significant number of individuals and families literally living in the dark. The benefit goes a long way toward keeping a household running. In Milwaukee, many tenants pay up to 80% of their income toward their rent. For them, a $200 to $300 utility bill each month is impossible to pay.”
From strictly a health perspective alone, Director Kirkendoll puts a fine point on just how literal a life-line of connectivity his organization and LIHEAP are to the program’s most vulnerable population:
“We visit the homes of residents who are unable to come into our offices to apply for the program. Oftentimes, our Energy Assistance advocate will see other issues in the home that are potentially life-threatening. For example, they may be heating their home with the stove, or there may be a carbon monoxide issue. We’re able to connect that applicant with other resources to resolve the issue.”