Rough hands, soft heart.
That might describe Sandra Schulkey who’s faced some tough times, but who’s also known the tender compassion of people at Care Corps Family Services and other area residents.
This Thanksgiving, the local woman is counting her blessings, which include help from the Fremont agency, the friendship of area residents, her family, and a cleaning job — even if it means her hands are a little rough.
Life today looks so much better than it did in July when Schulkey walked through the doors of Care Corps. The loss of loved ones that included the death of her son who was killed in 2000 had taken a toll.
“My mom passed away and I went into a tailspin about three years ago,” Schulkey said.
Schulkey was living in Omaha when one of her daughters asked her to move to Valley to be closer to her and another daughter and the grandchildren.
So she did.
But Schulkey said she made a mistake and lost her apartment. She sold her belongings. What she didn’t sell, she gave away and moved in with her oldest daughter, first, then her youngest.
Schulkey had heard about Care Corps so she called and talked to Corbin Burmester, a shelter staffer, now training to become a case manager.
Burmester explained the program, but said there was no room at that time.
He encouraged Schulkey to keep calling back.
She’d appreciate such support from Burmester, whose family had known their own tough times.
The young staffer was just 2 ½ years old when he and his parents were in a terrible car accident in January 1996. His dad, Jeff, who was in a medically induced coma for two weeks, was able to return to work that August. His mother, Dawn, who wasn’t expected to live, gradually came out of the coma with severe brain injuries.
Corbin had a broken arm and a shaken baby brain injury from the jolt. He would need to learn to walk again.
Years later, he was providing encouragement to Shulkey.
Schulkey remembers when a spot was open at Care Corps, but she couldn’t a ride.
She started crying while talking to Burmester.
“He calmed me down and he said it would be OK,” she remembered.
One morning, Burmester told her a room was available and a friend gave Schulkey a ride. Schulkey was told she could bring one bag, so she packed one as full as she could.
Schulkey still remembers the time and date — 2 p.m. July 8 — when she came to Care Corps.
“When I walked in, I was nervous and scared,” Schulkey said. “I’d heard horror stories about homeless shelters.”
A staffer processed paperwork with Schulkey, who then walked to her room.
“I almost started crying,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m 54 and starting over again.’
“I’d never been homeless before. If my girlfriend had still been in the parking lot, I probably would have turned around and walked out.”
Staffer Aaron Bottorff reassured Schulkey, who returned to her room.
The next morning was a new day.
“I knew I was safe,” she said. “I knew I was warm and I had food and I knew I’d be OK.”
She remembers meeting Burmester in person.
“You made it,” he said. “You’ll be OK.”
“I started bawling,” Shulkey said. “I met the guy who helped me get here.”
She continued meeting people.
“Everybody was nice to me and then I met my wonderful case manager (Amanda Kimball),’” Schulkey said.
Schulkey, who said she was on disability years ago, was asked about that.
“Give me two weeks and if I can’t find a job, I’ll apply for Social Security Disability,” she said.
But she didn’t want to go on disability.
Schulkey said she’d worked as a medication aide and certified nursing assistant and got a job interview at a local nursing home.
She borrowed a bike from Care Corps and headed to the interview, but had a flat tire on the way and then learned she’d been given the wrong address. She rescheduled the appointment, but accidentally wrote down the wrong day.
Schulkey ended up getting a job at another nursing home and started working.
Then she got pneumonia. Care Corps staffers arranged rides for her to go to Urgent Care and a hospital emergency room.
She lost that job.
Schulkey thought she had another job, but that didn’t work out.
At the same time, Schulkey was able to work what’s called spot jobs. She cleans house for an older couple.
And all the while, she kept saving her money. She bought a car. In October, she rented a two-bedroom apartment.
Schulkey remembers when she met Burmester’s mother Dawn, who is in a wheelchair, and his grandmother, Micky. Dawn lives with Micky and Gary Burmester.
“You must be very proud of your son,” Schulkey told Dawn, who is unable to speak.
“Yes, we are,” Micky said.
Schulkey would start cleaning a rental property for Micky.
Micky and her family starting finding furniture for Schulkey’s apartment at auctions, who worked to pay them back.
As of this month, Schulkey has a furnished apartment. She eventually hopes to apply for a job at Care Corps, either to go to work there or volunteer, “to give back something they gave me.”
Schulkey said she loves her daughters and, looking back, appreciates their tough love.
She appreciates Care Corps, too.
“Even when you had the worst day, I had everybody backing me up and saying, ‘You can do this.’”
Schulkey said the agency helped her get medicine when she didn’t have the money for it. She was able to talk to a counselor if she needed one.
“I did what they told me to do and as long as you work the program and don’t drink and don’t do drugs, then it works,” she said.
Schulkey said Care Corps does have clients do chores, but works those in around the individuals’ work schedules.
On Monday, Schulkey reflected on the last few months, amazed by how her life has changed. She didn’t have to go on disability and said she’s made some wonderful friends.
She calls Corbin Burmester her “angel” and Micky her “saint.” Of Dawn, Schulkey said: “She makes you smile every time you see her.”
And as Schulkey talks about the Burmesters, you forget those rough hands.
All you see is the soft heart.