News

Uninsured doesn’t mean unworthy

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— image credit:
by ASHLEY MILLER
for the Sequim Gazette
 
Imagine working long hours and paying taxes in the community but not having any health care benefits.

With the high cost of living, medical coverage isn’t always an option on a minimum wage — or even slightly higher — salary.

 

For many residents living on the North Olympic Peninsula, such a scenario really isn’t much of a stretch. Luckily, there’s another option.

 

Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics clinic provides primary medical and mental health care and referrals for specialty care to adults who live and work on the peninsula but don’t have access to health care.

 

The office offers four standard clinics, one behavioral health clinic, diabetes and hypertension clinics and a walk-in emergency-only dental clinic each week. Staffed primarily by volunteers, the office operates similarly to the Dungeness Valley Health & Wellness Clinic in Sequim but is located in Port Angeles.

 

Funded by United Way of Clallam County, Olympic Medical Center and the Washington Health Foundation, VIMO relies on fundraising to make ends meet.

 

Friday, Sept. 30, VIMO will present the fourth annual Healthy Harvest fundraising dinner at the Port Angeles CrabHouse. The dinner and movie event, “The Cats of Mirikitani,” presented by director Linda Hattendorf, is the group’s largest fundraiser of the year.

 

“We don’t bill our patients or take any insurance,” explained Patty Hannah, board member, volunteer coordinator and dinner organizer.

 

“If the money we need isn’t raised, we have to cut back services.”

 

Board president Marca Davies will introduce the program and guest speaker, followed by executive director Larry Little recognizing the Volunteer of the Year, with a designated “giving time” and raffle before the showing of “The Cats of Mirikitani.” The evening will close after a conversation with Hattendorf.

Meeting Mirikitani

“The Cats of Mirikitani” is the story of an 80-year-old artist named Jimmy Mirikitani who was homeless and living on a street corner near Hattendorf’s apartment in New York when she met him.

 

“In the freezing temperatures of a brutally cold winter, he was wrapped in blankets and coats, calmly drawing pictures of cats,” Hattendorf recalled. “I was curious and concerned — and I like cats — so I struck up a conversation (and) that’s how the relationship began.”


Over time, Hattendorf learned that Mirikitani was a Japanese American who’d been locked up in internment camps during World War II and lost half his family in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Sixty years later, he still was drawing pictures of the events that forever marked him as a child.

 

“As a filmmaker, I wanted to explore the link between such a profound loss of home in the past and winding up homeless at age 80 so many decades later,” Hattendorf said. Then, on the fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center just a mile away. Followed by another. And the country’s landscape was forever altered.

 

Acting purely on instinct, Hattendorf invited Mirikitani out of the smoke and into her home to live. The rest, Hattendorf said, is quite comical.

 

Suddenly, Hattendorf and her cat were sharing a one-room apartment with a feisty 80-year-old man.

“It was quite an adventure,” she said. “I’ll just tell you that the story has a happy ending.”

 

Hattendorf speaks of Mirikitani with love and admiration.

 

“Jimmy is someone who despite multiple traumas is a survivor,” she said. “Through art, he held onto a part of himself that no one could take away. Somehow he managed to hold onto a spirit of joy and beauty and even humor despite all the tragedies he has witnessed.”

 

Hattendorf finished her film in 2006 and immediately won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere.

 

Blending beauty and humor with tragedy and loss, “The Cats of Mirikitani” is an intimate exploration of the lingering wounds of war and the healing power of art.

 

Hattendorf has close ties to the area. Her younger brother, Bruce Hattendorf, teaches English and film at Peninsula College.

 

For those who can’t make the initial screening event on Sept. 30, a second showing will take place the next day at 3 p.m. in the basement at Olympic Medical Center. Tickets cost $5 and no reservations are necessary.

 

Last year, the Healthy Harvest event raised a total of $25,000. Hannah said she’s hoping for similar or better numbers this year.

 

For more information, go online to www.vimoclinic.org.

 

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