If talk of raising the retirement age puts you on edge, don’t complain to Clare Waite.
Her heart goes out to people who have lost jobs. She’ll lend a sympathetic ear to families struggling to make ends meet.
Just don’t gripe about having to work past 62 or 65 — or even until 70. She w
“People quit at 62, they’ve got another 20 years to be productive,” the Edmonds woman said. “You have to have a reason to get out of bed.”
Waite did finally get around to retiring. Thursday was her last day of full-time work at the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross. She worked there 29 years, most of them as administrator of Project Pride. The program, funded by donations, helps low-income people pay Snohomish County PUD electric bills.
On June 16, Waite turned 88.
“I was 60 when I started at the Red Cross. I’m just now beginning to feel I should retire,” said Waite, who raised five children and has been a widow 32 years. She and her husband, Edward, once owned an appliance and television store in downtown Everett.
Waite said helping people through hard times never felt like work.
“I always thought we made somebody’s life a little better today,” she said. “I never wanted anyone to be treated anything but civilly and with respect. I like to think I served them well.”
Project Pride was started in 1982 by the local Red Cross in partnership with the Snohomish Public Utility District. Neil Neroutsos, a PUD spokesman, said between $90,000 and $100,000 is raised each year from customers adding donations to bill payments and from PUD employees who also give.
“It’s usually enough to serve about 1,000 people in an average year,” Neroutsos said. “It’s kind of a safety net, a program for people who may not qualify for other help, whose income may be just above that threshold.”
Project Pride assistance is limited to once a year. Recipients’ income can’t be more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level.
People seeking help are first screened to see if they qualify for the Snohomish County Energy Assistance Program. “Project Pride is privately funded through donations. We’re federally funded and get a lot more money than Project Pride does,” said Bill Beuscher, supervisor for the county’s energy assistance and weatherizations programs.
Sometimes, he said, people get federal money to pay an electric bill but need extra help from Project Pride to pay a reconnect fee after power has been shut off.
In 2010, the county’s program helped 12,341 people with energy costs. Since 2008, Beuscher said he’s seen a sharp increase in households needing help.
Waite said the most impressive part of her job is seeing, even in a tough economy, that bill payers continue to give. Most Project Pride donations are small, $10 to $25. “Good-hearted people are very generous. They care enough about their neighbor that they want to help,” Waite said.
She plans to catch up on reading and crossword puzzles, but Waite’s favorite pastime is a road trip. “I’ve still got a lot of wanderlust,” she said. In her Buick, she drives to the ocean and to Idaho. She recently drove the North Cascades Highway.
“You have to know how to enjoy life,” she said.
Beuscher is on Project Pride’s advisory council, and has worked for years with Waite. “She’s an amazing individual, a total inspiration,” he said. “She’s worked more years after retirement age than many people work.”
“It’s a privilege to work with her,” said Chuck Morrison, executive director of the local Red Cross. “If you read the comments her clients make in our surveys — we ask ‘How did you feel about Red Cross services?’ — most of it is how wonderfully they were treated by Clare.”
Kris Krischano, a longtime Red Cross volunteer, calls Waite “an angel on earth.”
“Every person who came to the chapter for help from Project Pride came carrying a burden of worry, anxiety and oftentimes a bit of embarrassment,” he said. “Clare was intent on always making them feel better than when they arrived.”
Newly retired, she won’t say goodbye to Red Cross. She’ll be back once a week — as a volunteer.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
Project Pride, a program of the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross, helps people in need pay Snohomish County PUD electric bills.
Donations can be added to PUD payments or mailed to: Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross, 2530 Lombard Ave., Everett, WA 98201.
Information on getting help: 425-740-2333, or http://snohomishcounty.redcross.org.
Information on Snohomish County Energy Assistance: 425-388-3880 or