St. Matthew's Representative Payee Program will hold an open house on Sunday to mark 20 years since its formation.


"We're going to have cake and punch and celebrate 20 years of service to the Newton community," said Katie Reese, director of the Representative Payee Program.


St. Matthew's Representative Payee Program was started to organize volunteers who were willing to aid people with developmental disabilities or mental illness in managing their finances. The program, which started out with 20 clients, now has more than 140 clients.


It takes the work of 30 volunteers and two part-time staff members to manage the more than $1 million in assets for the program's clients. The monumental task is handled without any federal or state funding.


The open house will give guests an opportunity to learn about the program and the people it assists.


"We now are doing more than just paying bills," Reese noted. "We also do all the paperwork to keep their benefits in place — their Medicare, Social Security, food stamps — all of that, we maintain."


The scope of the program has grown over the past two decades as funding cuts keep agencies overwhelmed with requests for assistance, having a backlog that might take months to get through.


"I used to be able to contact people and advocate and get something done," Reese said. "Now, it's very difficult to do that because of the political climate of the state of Kansas, because there's no one who is willing to push, and there's nobody listening."


Life-size silhouettes of male and female figures, each with a sheet of information representing the typical challenges and traumatic incidents the program's clients face, will be on display during the open house.


"People don't realize that many of our clients are college graduates — illness hits them and it just destroys them, mentally and physically, usually," Reese noted.


Because of the Representative Payee Program, clients are able to pay child support, rent and utilities.

The goal of the program is to enable individuals to be independent — keeping them warm, fed, housed and unafraid of losing their place in the community or of being exploited.


"St. Matthew's Church is committed to this program," Reese said. "We step up to the plate, and there's no reason why we wouldn't, as long as the church is here. It's very, very important."


Clients are able to meet with their payees at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church on Tuesdays to discuss any changes or special needs they have financially.


"Part of our mission, our message and our service to them is to provide them with a place where they can sit down and have a cup of coffee — talk with their friends, visit with volunteers, visit with the priest and they can have people that respect them treat them with dignity," Reese said.


Reese has even brought her own grandsons to interact with the program's clients, and said that exposure to people of different abilities has given them the confidence to hold conversations with anyone.


"Not every volunteer is from the church," Reese said. "There are community members, professional people and members from other churches involved."


Several of the Representative Payee Program volunteers have been there for 20 years, including

Suzie Luganbill and Nancy Craig.


"It's the dedication of St. Matthew's people to keep it going year after year," Reese said. "Their willingness to serve our clients and to give them a safe place to come, that's been a really important mission for us from the beginning."


Some of the program's clients will attend the open house, though it took a special effort to arrange for their transportation via the local taxi services.


"One of the issues for people in Newton who can't or don't have a car is transportation. There are no taxis on Saturday or Sunday," Reese said. "That makes it more exciting and more fun that they'll be here and they'll be a part of the celebration."


St. Matthew's Representative Payee Program's open house will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. April 23 at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, 2001 Windsor Drive in Newton.