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Katie Graf and The Ministry Fund: Serving Door County’s Vulnerable Populations for 22 Years

Katie Graf Ministry Fund InterviewIn 1986, Katie Graf began her career as a Social Worker at Door County Medical Center. “After I graduated from college, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do,” Katie recalls, “so I worked first as a volunteer coordinator, then as a child protection worker—both in Green Bay. That was my first step into the real world of social work.”

“When I started at Door County Medical Center, I was 28 years old, and it was two years after I got married. It was quite exciting, actually,” she remembers, adding, “I was the only social worker when I first arrived, and as a result, I had many different responsibilities. But, the diversity of the job, I’ve always enjoyed it—every day is different.”

Indeed, in the 36 years since she started working at DCMC, Katie has been busy with a broad array of duties that have included: arranging home care for newly discharged patients who may need assistance; assisting and transitioning older people into nursing home units; advocating for the needs of DCMC’s patients and assisted living facility residents; and helping families who have recently lost a loved one.

On top of all that, she was awarded Door County Medical Center’s Adult Volunteer of the Year for her 30 years of work with Door CANcer, she served on the hospital’s Ethics Committee and the Mission and Values Committee, and she co-founded DCMC’s Life Line Program, now called Life Assist, a program which helps older adults living at home summon quick assistance whenever they need it.

Looking back over her many accomplishments, Katie is proudest of two—her advocacy work, and her establishment of The Ministry Fund.

The Ministry Fund

The Ministry Fund was founded in 1999 when Door County Medical Center affiliated with Ministry Health to become part of this Catholic healthcare system. This meant adopting the Mission and Values established by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, the sponsoring organization for Ministry Health Care. That mission—to further the healing ministry of Jesus by continually improving the health and wellbeing of all people, especially the poor in the communities we serve—provided the foundation upon which The Ministry Fund was built.

“As a result,” Katie recalls, “the Ministry Organization gave us a grant of $8,000 to be used—as we saw fit—to help the disabled and poor in our community.” She continues, “So, I got together with June Prust (the assistant to hospital CEO Brian Stephens, and hospital CFO Andy LaLuzerne) and developed what we called at the time, ‘Katie’s Fund,’ and we decided to use the grant as a unique, open-ended fund people could utilize in emergencies and crisis situations—in other words, it is a fund of last resort.”

Today, and because of Katie’s tireless work as the coordinator of The Ministry Fund, the original $8,000 grant has grown nearly four-fold, and “since the implementation of the Ministry Fund 22 years ago,” Katie notes, “we’ve provided support to over 100,000 cases in Door and Kewaunee Counties and have gifted well over a half-a-million dollars—around $677,000.”

Putting The Ministry Fund to good use

The Ministry Fund helps support a wide range of financial needs, and the different needs that are funded are as unique and diverse as the many individuals to who require those funds. Common requests include funding for: shelter, clothing, durable medical equipment, car repair, utilities, medications, transportation, dental bills, and more.

“Many of DCMC’s employees—for instance, nurses and social workers—utilize the Ministry Fund in one manner or another to help patients in need,” Katie explains, adding, “There are patients who go home without funds for their inhalers, and patients who are diabetic and don’t have insurance or Medicare coverage for diabetic supplies. In cases like these, employees can rely on The Ministry Fund to kick in for those patients and help pay for the supplies and medications they need.”

Most donations that are allocated directly to patients from the fund average around $200, but can also be larger or more widely distributed, which in turn often involves coordinating with other agencies in the community to connect those in need with the right resources. Examples include:

  • An uninsured cancer patient who needed all of his infected teeth removed before the oncologist could proceed with treatment. Assistance from local churches and The Ministry Fund helped accomplish this.
  • Seasonal workers in Door County often face financial difficulties during the winter months. The Ministry Fund, in conjunction with Energy Assistance, helps several residents with the heat they need to get them through the winter.
  • Elderly patients at DCMC frequently require assistance with transportation to and from doctor appointments and many cannot afford the taxi rates. The Ministry Fund, in conjunction with Door Tran, developed a voucher system with local taxi companies to be used when needed.

“More recently,” Katie adds, “I received a call from a gal who left her home because of a violent situation. Right now she needs help getting into a safe place. So, I coordinated with Help of Door County to get her into a safe house, which was paid for by The Ministry Fund.”

Supporting people in need when they need help

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of The Ministry Fund is the speed with which it can receive a request for assistance and then respond to that request with funds.

Depending on the type of request, the approval process can take up to a few days, “but more commonly,” Katie says, “we can provide help within 24 hours.” She continues, “With other organizations, it can be, ‘We’ll answer your call on Monday and get back to you Friday.’ But needs can be immediate, and frequently, by the time the patient, or client, receives an answer, they are evicted or even living in their car—the fact is, we can usually provide assistance right away and get the client out of that crisis situation before it becomes a larger problem.”

And, it’s more than just a fund

“The Ministry Fund isn’t just financial support,” Katie says, “We also support our clients in other ways as well.” In fact, when people apply for assistance through The Ministry Fund they are frequently provided with:

  • A counseling session—either Katie, or another social worker, will sit down with the client to assess the client’s current situation and to figure out if they have other needs that should be addressed.
  • Access to other types of assistance—which typically involves helping a patient or client access disability assistance and subsidized insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid so they can afford medications.
  • Financial education and counseling—if needed, The Ministry Fund will connect clients with FISC, a non-profit, United Way of Door County funded partner, which provides financial counseling to people of all income levels who have money and debt management issues.

The Ministry Fund: “Keep it going”

With a month left in her tenure at DCMC, Katie isn’t planning on slowing down any time soon. Rather, in retirement she’s looking forward to continuing her work with the community. “What I’ll be doing first is joining the Hospital Auxiliary, just to be able to visit with residents at the Nursing Home. But also, one of my long-term goals has been to work with children. So, I’m thinking about the summer camps at the YMCA, and I’ve checked out the Sunshine House—I love working with the developmentally disabled people—so I’m thinking about part-time there. I’ve got a lot of options.”

“However,” she adds, “my overarching goal is to keep The Ministry Fund going. I’ve seen a lot of changes in the past 36 years,” she remarks, “and I just hope and pray that we are able to continue the mission of the hospital—to serve the vulnerable, and the elderly, and the poor. We need to keep our focus on that. And, of course, we need funding to continue to serve those populations. So, to my friends and colleagues at Door County Medical Center and in the larger community, my parting words would be, ‘Keep going, keep driving, keep advocating, keep helping our fellow citizens—keep it going.’”

If you, or anyone you know, needs assistance, we encourage you to call The Ministry Fund at Door County Medical Center at (920) 746-3717.

Applications are reviewed by a committee to determine if the request meets established criteria. The approval process can take as little as a few hours up to a few days, depending upon the type of request.

For more information on The Ministry Fund, or to donate, please click here.
Published 6/8/2021 8:03:47 AM
Tags: community, donate, ministry fund, news

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