The heart of a caregiver brims with the greatest attributes of human admiration and to honour these wonderful spirits, Schlegel Villages asked 48 team members to open up their hearts a little to share what drives them in their daily life.
This is a mere drop in the bucket, for more than 5,000 people across 19 villages support and care for the residents who choose to call a village home, and they each give of themselves to enhance the lives of others.
Some cared for loved ones in the past and found they had a special gift for it, so they followed the path they discovered in those earlier days.
“From my childhood I’ve always liked seniors, and I was the main helper for my grandmother,” says director of nursing care Ida Isaac. “Wherever she went I was holding her hand and that is my passion.” That passion led her to long-term care and she continues to follow it every day, caring for others as if they were her own family.
Others, like recreation director Patricia Silva, lost their grandparents early in life and longed for more time with their elders. “I was missing that connection,” Patricia says, “and I always wanted that relationship. Now I have 100-plus grandparents.”
There are some commonalities that emerge among this group, perhaps the greatest of which is the belief that they get more out of the work than they put into it. The relationships they build with those they serve are a treasure, and they are open in their gratitude for each of them.
PSW Jeff Studman recalls helping a resident into bed one evening and as he covered her with a blanket she looked up to him and said, ‘I love you, Jeff. Thank you for always helping me.’
“It’s my privilege,” came his reply, and that memory will always stand out in his mind, he says, because he has always wanted to help others.
“I love that my role contributes to a collaborative and holistic approach to health and wellness,” says Kristin Frye, who has been supporting neighbours in the gym for nearly three years. “I find it very rewarding to work with a neighbour to set a goal and help them achieve it.”
Many of the caregivers speak of rewards, and they often say the role they play in the lives of others is so much more than a job.
To be a true caregiver one needs to “fully understand their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being,” says chaplain Derek Davis. “It is not a job, it is a calling, and you need to have passion.”
To all the caregivers in all capacities, Schlegel Villages is grateful that you’ve followed your calling. To see the profiles of our 48 caregivers, simply scroll down.
Lauren chose a caregiving role because she wanted to give back to her community and be a solid role model for her children. “The relationships with the residents, families and team members keep me coming back,” she says. There is “magic” in these relationships, she says, and when things get difficult, she would advise all caregivers to remember this.
“I chose long-term care because I really enjoy the relationships that you build,” Katie says. “They become like your second family instead of the constant turnover you would have in hospital.” Simple connections, she says, like offering a sweater to a neighbour when she’s cold, can have great meaning, and Katie thrives on those simple connections.
Tracy Decker’s mother was a caregiver – a “great woman” who inspired her daughter to also work in support of others. Tracy has been a personal support worker for 34 years and considers the residents and team members of her village to be her “second family.” “It just comes natural,” Tracy says, “caring for others.” She loves getting to know the residents she serves and in doing so, she’s able to find the best ways to support them. Her natural gift is being present in every moment with the people she serves, and she’s happy to do so every time she enters the village.
“Always be empathetic,” Wendy says. “You never know what struggles someone is facing in silence.” She has carried that sense of empathy with her as a caregiver the past 14 years. Passion, positivity, selflessness and humility; these are the traits she sees in the caregivers that inspire her, and she thinks of them often as she works in support of both neighbours and team members.
Renante is proud to support residents by ensuring everything in their home is in good condition and working smoothly, and he takes the role seriously. The caregivers throughout the home and their relationship with the residents inspire him, and he says he’s grateful for the opportunity to work where he does.
Brent admits he didn’t really know what he was getting into when he began studying to be a personal support worker, but he’s been doing it successfully for the past eight years, and “I wouldn’t change it,” he says. “I’m glad I did it.” Knowing he is making a difference in the lives of neighbours who have become extended family is a point of pride for Brent, and it keeps him coming back day after day.
Josie has been a housekeeper serving her neighbours in long-term care for three years, and she’s happy to contribute to their lives by helping them keep their rooms clean and organized. “I love them more and more every day,” she says, of the neighbours she serves. “I love the smiles on their faces when they see me, and I love knowing that I am comforting them.” She’s had other jobs in the past where she dreaded going to work but she looks forward to every shift as a caregiver. “I love the deep, honest affection we all have for our neighbours,” Josie says.
“If you enjoy what you do then it’s not really work,” says Randy Montour, who took a job as a maintenance man in a long-term care home 24 years ago and came to love the people he worked alongside. The small moments sometimes give him the greatest joy, he says: “the residents thanking me for doing something small that took no effort.” It’s in those moments he realizes why he’s been happy coming to work every day.
Upon the advice of her grandmother some 24 years ago, Stacy decided to become a personal support worker. She tells the story of caring for a resident who was deemed palliative and at one point as she stepped out of the room, she heard the dying man say to his daughter: ‘Stacy is family, don’t forget that’. “My heart exploded,” she says, and in moments like that and countless others throughout her career, she knows her grandmother was right. “It’s not just a job,” she says. “It’s a calling. We can teach you to physically care for someone, but we can’t teach compassion or empathy and those are the two main strengths that anyone needs to have when working in any nursing discipline.”
On his first shift in an LTC setting, Mike figured he was just a maintenance man “there to fix stuff,” but that changed entirely when a resident asked him for help walking to the dining room. He’ll never forget the smile upon her face as he walked with her, and he soon realized that every person, no matter their role, has a chance to impact the lives of the residents in the village. “I love to help others,” Mike says. “It doesn’t matter if those others are our fellow co-workers, residents or families, I truly love to help.”
Patricia has always wanted to work in recreation, specifically with older adults, because her grandparents all passed away when she was quite young. “I was missing that connection,” Patricia says, “and I always wanted that relationship. Now I have 100-plus grandparents.” She’s always enjoyed spending time with her elders, speaking with them and learning from their life stories and in her role now, that time is what she cherishes most.
When a neighbour (resident) he’d known for five years passed away, the family showed an amazing amount of gratitude to the team, which helped everyone find comfort in a difficult loss, Anthony says. Those are the relationships Anthony is grateful for, and exactly why he chose to become a caregiver.
“I chose this field because helping others brings joy into my life,” says Jovanka. “It makes my heart happy seeing how the things that we think are so small and not important are actually really important for someone.”
“I love working with people and working in the health care field,” says Danielle, who is still in her first year as a registered practical nurse. She thrives on the positive feedback she hears from a resident or a family member, and takes all they have to say as an opportunity to learn. Patience, humour, empathy and confidence are some of the main qualities she believes a good caregiver must have, and she believes it’s important “to embrace every little victory and the good moments.” When a resident offers gratitude after a difficult procedure and tells her she is a good nurse, she feels pride and knows she’s doing the work she was meant to do.
“You feel like you are a part of something,” says Jake, who’s been helping residents gain new strength and mobility in the gym for the past five years. He entered the field to make an impact on people’s lives, he says, but quickly found that the “authentic relationships” he builds with neighbours have a great impact upon his in many ways.
For 13 years Elena has supported residents from the kitchen. She’d come to Canada from Macedonia and her aunt suggested she work towards a job as a cook in LTC. “I like cooking and I like being in the kitchen,” she says. At every meal she connects with the residents she serves, and she enjoys the interactions. “They are our customers,” she says, “and they are why we’re here. To do this job, you have to love the seniors.”
Hannah recalls a beautiful interaction she recently saw between some young, student volunteers and a neighbour in her village who lives with dementia. This neighbour had been sad not long before, but when she was with these young people, “her eyes lit up . . . with a look of pure adoration upon her face,” Hannah says. ‘You are all so beautiful,’ the woman said to the young people as she stroked their arms. “This wasn’t something that could have been ‘planned’ or ‘scheduled,’ ” Hannah says. “It was a few moments of pure joy.” In her role, she sees countless moments like these, and in each one she thinks: “This is why I do what I do.”
Sharon has been a caregiver for 40 years and she says that even though it can be a demanding job, it’s the “people contact” that keeps her coming back day after day. She is one of those special caregivers who have a natural ability to offer comfort to people in palliative care, and in 40 years she’s been in that position countless times. “Dedication beyond the job scope,” is the main quality she sees in the caregivers that inspire her, and she offers a bit of advice to people entering the field: “Listen,” she says, and “never stop learning or teaching.”
Holly loves bringing her sense of creativity to the people she supports in the village, and the relationships she’s built over the past eight years in recreation are a gift she receives over and over again. “This is the resident’s home,” she says. “Be prepared to make a bunch of new friends and learn something new everyday.”
“This is something that I want to do,” she says, remembering her decision to enter the field after her grandmother passed away. For 22 years, the residents she serves have been “like a family to me, and I enjoy being with my family here.”
There are times when a neighbour has suffered an injury that prevents them from being able to walk, and Janelle says it’s incredible to be part of the team that helps them get back upon their feet. “You feel happy, proud and excited for the resident,” she says, and in eight years with Schlegel Villages, she’s seen it many times. “When you see the difference you can make in someone’s life, it makes you feel good about what you do,” Janelle says.
Heather says the relationships she builds with everyone in her village is what she enjoys most about her role. “I enjoy helping to make their days a little easier and hopefully happier.” She finds great purpose in her work guiding others through difficult times. Seeing the relief upon their faces when they understand it’s going to be okay is a gift she’s grateful to receive. “This line of work is hard,” she says, “but the rewards are endless.”
“I believe that nursing is one of the most interesting and growing careers available today,” says Domenique. Every day she sees team members doing so much for so many people. She recalls a message of gratitude from the daughter of a gentleman who had passed away. Domenique had struggled with the loss, as had the rest of the team, but this message warmed them all, and they found great comfort in knowing they had supported the passing of a great person with honour and dignity.
Tia was once a first responder in a car manufacturing plant, and at some point she realized she wanted something more. She went to school to become a PSW, “and it’s the best thing I ever did,” she says. “Work is what you make it. Smile, laugh, grow with our elders, and then it becomes going home to help out, not going to work.”
“I have a passion for nursing,” Ida says. “From my childhood I’ve always liked seniors, and I was the main helper for my grandmother – wherever she went I was holding her hand and that is my passion.” That passion led her to long-term care and she continues to follow it every day, caring for others as if they were her own family.
Kari loves it when the neighbours of her village stop by her office to chat. “I love to hear the stories of their lives and learning about their families,” she says. Her grandparents both lived in a long-term care setting, and their experience inspired her to be passionate about helping others in the same situation.
“I love that my role contributes to a collaborative and holistic approach to health and wellness,” says Kristin, who has been supporting neighbours in the gym for nearly three years. “I find it very rewarding to work with a neighbour to set a goal and help them achieve it.”
Andre began working as a PSW before taking on a new role and in both, the love of helping others is satisfied. “I enjoy a busy environment and I enjoy the people I work with,” Andre says. A great team working together makes the days go by smoothly, and the neighbours in the village are the ones who benefit.
Tammy says the relationships built in a care environment and knowledge in the fact that she’s helping others brings great joy to her heart every day. “This is our neighbours’ home,” she says, “and we want to make every day an amazing day.”
The family atmosphere and a sense of kindness is something felt the moment anyone steps into the village, Derek says, and he appreciates being part of that environment. To be a true caregiver, one needs to “fully understand their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being,” he says. “It is not a job, it is a calling, and you need to have passion.”
Tammy began as a volunteer in a retirement home and found she enjoyed it so much that she chose to switch career paths. Now she coordinates volunteers within her village, and loves the opportunity to be creative in finding ways to help others support the residents she loves. She takes special pleasure in helping young people find their comfort level working with residents, opening their eyes to new possibilities in long-term care.
“Once I started working in long-term care, I fell in love with it,” says Bria. “I love having conversations with residents and trying to make their day just a little brighter.” Food services is a fast-paced environment, and Bria loves that aspect of the job, but she still finds time to hold the hand of a resident who often feels anxious at mealtimes. When this resident becomes calm and comfortable because Bria is there beside her, she says: “it makes me happy that I’m doing something so small, but to her it means everything.”
Jeff recalls helping a neighbour into bed one evening and as he covered her with a blanket she looked up to him and said, ‘I love you, Jeff. Thank you for always helping me.’ “It’s my privilege,” he replied, and that memory will always stand out in his mind, he says, because he has always wanted to help others.
“It always feels good to make a difference,” says Jean, who has been working in maintenance for nearly 20 years. The connections and relationships with all people in the village is the great reward for Jean, and being flexible and adaptable in every situation helps those relationships thrive.
“I enjoy being able to put a smile upon a neighbour’s face,” says Erica. She’s new to the job, but already feels the joy of making a difference in the lives of others, and she admires the caregivers around her who “go above and beyond” to support the neighbours.
The village where Deanna has worked for the past five years is like a “second home,” she says, where knowing each resident and team member as individuals creates a feeling of family where everyone looks out for one another. She once dressed up as Mickey Mouse for a resident, part of a surprise to let her know she was going to Disneyland, and “I felt so honoured to be a part of the resident’s day and make her dreams come true.” Moments like this, large and small, make the job a pleasure.
Mylene came to Canada from The Philippines as a nanny caring for the young children of working families. She’s a natural caregiver and chose to study to become a personal support worker, an extension of her innate nature. When she got her first job working with seniors six years ago, she found she cared for them as she would have for the family she missed back home. “I take care of these people and it’s like a replacement for taking care of my parents,” Mylene says, recalling the way she first approached the job. “This is like a pay back.”
For nearly 35 years Lisa has worked in laundry, ensuring the residents she serves have clean clothes and linens. It’s a vital service she provides and she’s proud to do the work, for it offers residents an extra bit of comfort in their days, and she loves the residents. “They make me laugh,” Lisa says, “and they like to talk about the old times, which I really like.” Lisa appreciates the time she gets to spend with residents throughout the day as she goes about her duties, joking around and sharing laughter. Those smiles, above all else, are what bring her back every day.
“Every day is different,” Melissa says. “There’s always something new to see and do.” She finds joy in the simple things at work, like helping a neighbour find a lost article of clothing, and she says when she sees her team members doing their best, “it inspires me to do my best.” She says no matter what: “it is important to have fun in what you do.”
Mark says quite simply that he likes to be with people. That’s why he works in long-term care. “It gives me satisfaction to see the smiles on their faces,” he says, and he’s happy to be part of that. His team members inspire him to be the “best me,” he adds, and he knows that with hard work and a positive attitude, many great opportunities will arise.
Nicole began working as a PSW to pursue her desire to help others, but when she began working in the role she says it sparked a passion to pursue nursing as well. “The little moments” are what keep her inspired every day, she says; “the connections, the smiles, the small wins.” Over the holidays, a family approached her to offer a card filled with kind words. “It was so heartfelt and genuine,” she says, and it was one of the many small moments that mean so much.
After 47 years as a personal support worker, Linda is preparing to retire. She’s been a caregiver practically all her life, though she started out in a nursery school caring for the youngest people in her community. She says she’s always been drawn to her elders, though, so she moved into a position where she could support them. The hardest part of the job, she says, is how close she can become with the residents she supports, knowing that at some point she will have to say goodbye. “I was told not to get close to them,” she says, recalling advice offered when she began working nearly five decades ago, “but you can’t help it. I really love them.”
As a dietary aide, “you know everybody, and you know what they like and they don’t like,” Diane says. The simple opportunities to chat with residents throughout the day sometimes remind Diane of the long conversations she used to have with her grandmother, and she appreciates that very much.
When Ramil’s grandmother was sick in hospital in The Philippines, he cared for her, and in doing so she amplified his natural desire to help others. This is why he chose to be a caregiver. “I enjoy making our neighbours smile and giggle,” he says. “I enjoy joking around, dancing with them; seeing their giggles takes the stress away. “Resident-centred care is not just a phrase,” adds Ramil, “it is a lifestyle.”
“I chose this career to make a difference in people’s lives as well as my own,” Crystal says. “Helping someone at a vulnerable time brings me gratitude and a sense of belonging. If you can be one thing,” she says, “be kind.”
When Kelly first went into nursing, she imagined herself in operating rooms supporting surgeons in difficult procedures while working towards becoming a nurse practitioner. At the time, a friend introduced her to Schlegel Villages and she toured The Village of Wentworth Heights; she never looked back to her original plan. She sat beside a resident that afternoon and a conversation unfolded she will never forget. “I couldn’t believe how a resident was sharing her whole life history in five minutes of me waiting to meet with the team,” Kelly says. “It was the beginning of an entirely different career path,” and she couldn’t be happier. Now she supports the team and residents as a general manager. “It’s almost too good to be true,” she says, “how you can actually bring this entity of nursing and supporting others into somebody’s life – that’s the whole reason I went into nursing.”
Alexandra always knew she wanted to support people in her community in some capacity, so she entered a post-secondary social service program after high school, during which time she had a year-long placement in a long-term care home. “I fell in love with recreation,” she says, so she changed her field of study. “I love giving somebody a purpose,” she says, “and creating meaningful programs for them. I get the satisfaction of our residents being so happy with what we do, and it’s just so meaningful for me. It’s nice to be in a field you love – that feeling you get when you know you’re doing what you were meant to be doing.”
“That is my heart,” says Leona, who has been a caregiver for 30 years, “taking care of the residents. I love taking care of them.” When asked about a special memory, she recalls a resident in her final hours asking Leona to read to her from a bible, which Leona was honoured to do. The resident passed away to Leona’s voice of comfort, and what a special gift that was in Leona’s heart.