Community members unite to help family facing health challenges

Community members unite to help family facing health challenges

The PCACS team strives to spark positivity in the region by connecting community members, businesses and nonprofits to lend a helping hand.

Porter County Aging and Community Services Section 8 Housing Director Valerie Martinez recently initiated an effort to assist a client in need.

“Holly (Vandevelde) reached out to me in December after her daughter, Olivia, was diagnosed with heart failure and was at Advocate Children’s Hospital,” Martinez said. “Holly is a single mother of four working as a waitress, and she was concerned with providing a Christmas for her children during this health crisis.”

Martinez connected with Toys for Tots Coordinator Jim Atkinson and arranged to pick up two bags of presents for Vandevelde’s children as well as obtained a special BTS doll donated by Barnes & Noble in Valparaiso.

“Northwest Indiana Community Action donated grocery gift cards to assist during this stressful time and new beds were donated by Indiana Furniture. The team members went out of their way to find beds for these clients,” Martinez said. “Chick-fil-A donated kids’ meals during the holiday season to also help Holly and her family over this rough hump.”

Olivia’s diagnosis of dilated Cardiomyopathy with left ventricle hypertrophy continues to affect the family in the new year.

“She’s doing better. She takes 20 pills a day and at first, we thought she was going to need a heart transplant. If the medicine continues to work, then she wouldn’t have to, but she is still being evaluated,” Vandevelde said. “When we took her in to have her gallbladder removed, she had congestive heart failure. It’s a miracle that she is still alive. They were telling me she wasn’t going to make it. It was so scary.”

“Even the doctor said she is excited to see what I do with my life because from what she saw, I shouldn’t be here right now,” Olivia added.

Today, additional organizations and individuals are jumping in to address various needs and bring some joy to the family during this difficult time. The South Haven Lions Club has donated a wheelchair and shower seat for Olivia, blankets, and pillows have been provided by the Conn family and Carol Hammond through PCACS and a wish concert to a BTS show is being granted by Do It for the Love. Vincent Barango donated dressers and delivered them to the family’s apartment. The Morris Performing Arts Center has gifted “Lion King” tickets to the family as well.

“The assistance has meant a lot to us. I have no family, no brothers or sisters. Valerie is like family to us, and we can’t believe she wants to help us so much. We’re not used to that,” Holly said.

The PCACS team has also donated a washer and dryer and NWI Heating and Air Solutions helped with installation.

“Mike Lopez happily volunteered to transport these items to Holly’s house,” Martinez said. “The company’s mission is to help our community in ways that can be really life-changing.”

The Indiana Children’s Wish Fund has granted a wish for one week in Florida for the family to enjoy time at Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Give Kids the World Village.

“When I was little, I always watched the Disney channel and still do. I love the shows and have always wanted to go to Disney,” Olivia said.

Martinez said the goal now is to help Holly and her family obtain reliable transportation.

“The stress on a family living with chronic illness is overwhelming without having to worry about transportation,” she said.  

The Boys and Girls Club of South Haven is in the process of planning a fund-raiser, and NeighborLink Porter County is collecting funds via or in person at Repurpose Place, 102 Beverly Drive, in Chesterton.

“Hearing Holly’s story really brought back memories for me after my own child was diagnosed with a serious illness and my only form of transportation broke down in the midst of driving to Indianapolis,” Martinez said. “I decided then and there to help families in similar situations as much as I could.”

Martinez continues to connect with community members, establishing a network of resources for clients in need. She is helping plan an 18th birthday party for Olivia in September with a donated “Dream Cake” from Icing Smiles and put together activities and day excursions for the family through Bounce Children’s Foundation.

“PCACS wants to bring back to our community the old-time values of asking people: ‘How can I help?’” she said. “We want to fill our community with support and compassion. Sometimes, the only thing that a person needs is someone to say, ‘I am here with you through this,’ to make all of the difference in the world.”

Holly said the family is so appreciative of all of the assistance and is mindful of how health challenges can hit anybody at any time.

“You hear about other people with cancer and heart problems, but you never really think it is going to hit home and happen to you. And it did. She was a healthy 9-pound baby. Where did this come from? We still don’t know,” Holly said. “She was swollen and always tired. She couldn’t climb the stairs without getting out of breath.

“I never thought at 17 she would have rare congestive heart failure. You have to stay strong and hope for a positive outcome.”

To donate luggage for the family’s wish trip or an additional bed, contact Martinez at 219-464-9904 or  

PCACS’ mission is to extend a helping hand to seniors, those with disabilities and low-income residents by providing services to improve their quality of life, including transportation, energy and emergency assistance, Section 8 and ramp programs.

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With photo: Olivia Vandevelde is getting stronger, but still faces health challenges after being diagnosed at 17 with heart failure. The PCACS team is working to assist Olivia, her mother Holly and her whole family.