In 1989, Franklin Vermillion watched as a group of friends gathered around a booth at his local burger joint communicated with each other using American Sign Language (ASL). He had learned ASL in high school and had always wanted to learn more, so he decided to approach the group.
Through some rudimentary signs and written notes, Franklin quickly befriended James.
Franklin and James’ instant friendship led to quick family introductions. Upon meeting James’ mom, Ollie May, Franklin learned more about the family’s history. At the time, James and his mom lived in Watts and Ollie May cared for three grandchildren, plus James who has intellectual, physical, (profound deafness), and medical disabilities. Franklin saw the struggles that James’ family faced so he helped out whenever he could.
He became “Uncle Franklin” to the rest of James’ family. When he wasn’t working, Franklin would spend his free time with James and his family, going on adventures, enjoying time outside, and giving Ollie May much-needed breaks.
As the years passed, the friendship only grew stronger between Franklin, James, and Ollie May. When Ollie May’s health began to decline, Franklin was her shoulder to lean on. On her deathbed, she told Franklin that if he would care for her son, she could die happy knowing he would be okay.
Since then, Franklin has devoted the last 34 years of his life to caring for his best friend, with just over half of those as his official IHSS provider. Together, they’ve overcome insurmountable obstacles and diagnoses including HIV, Hepatitis C, and colon cancer.
“I can’t say that it’s been easy,” Franklin says of their time together, “but through IHSS, I’ve been able to give James a rich and full life, not in an institution where he may have been alone and ignored but at home.”
In addition to being an IHSS provider to James, he’s also maintained jobs in the hospitality industry and eventually started his own catering business. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and Franklin lost his business, it was devastating for both of them.
Now they must live off only the minimum wage that Franklin receives as an IHSS provider in Orange County. It’s not a living wage, especially in Orange County, and they’ve struggled to make it work.
Franklin and James’ story isn’t unique. Many caregivers sacrifice more than just a living wage to do this work: we often end up using our own resources to pay for our clients’ needs, and some of us even provide unpaid care to ensure our clients’ health and safety. That’s why we’re at the bargaining table fighting for better wages in Orange County.
Want to help fight for better wages for caregivers? Call your local office to see how you can get involved.
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