Celebrating Older Americans Month
May is Older Americans Month. At Benchmark, we strive each day to honor residents for the tremendous impact they have had on their families and friends, their professions, and society as a whole. Not to be forgotten are the contributions of our older Benchmark associates, who each day support our residents and their colleagues, as well as positively impact their own communities.
Nearly 40 percent of Benchmark’s workforce is 50 or older – with 1,000 associates over the age of 60. As part of Benchmark’s commitment to providing a supportive, rewarding, and welcoming workplace for all associates, Benchmark is proud to be a Certified Age-Friendly Employer by the Age-Friendly Institute.
We recently spoke to several of these associates about what inspires them to transform lives through human connection.
Anna Jean Ajello, BSL at Hamden
In 2012, Anna Jean Ajello decided it was time to retire from the doctor’s office where she worked for 52 years. The practice had changed ownership, so Anna Jean, then 72, thought it seemed like good timing.
The widow eventually discovered that tending to her house and other chores just wasn’t cutting it.
“It wasn’t enough stimulation, not with my energy level. I needed to be out and interacting with people,” says Anna Jean, now 82. So, five years ago, she found a part-time receptionist job at Benchmark Senior Living at Hamden in Connecticut.
The senior living community was a perfect fit. Because of her experience working in the doctor’s office, she understood the needs of older adults and their families. Just as important, she knew what she needed at this point in her life.
“I’m a firm believer in keeping active and stimulated as you get older,” she explains. “Also, as I tell my granddaughter, if you find something you enjoy, it never becomes work.”
Nancy Toppa, Blenheim-Newport
Nancy Toppa has always had strong relationships with the residents of Blenheim-Newport, R.I., where she has worked since 1992. She has had many close friendships, sharing stories and advice on a variety of topics, particularly parenting.
She notes that her relationships have only grown deeper over the years.
“I’m more their age now,” says the 76-year-old server, laughing. “I understand what they are going through. I understand the loss of a partner, how life treated them as they raised a family and how life is treating them now as an older adult.”
Nancy says she takes pride in her connections, something that comes naturally because of shared experiences.
“I can communicate and connect with them more now than when I started. I enjoy their conversations and I think they enjoy mine,” she says, noting she has no immediate plans of giving up the human connections she feels at Blenheim-Newport. “I’m out with people, enjoying them. That’s special,” she says.
Josie Roman, The Atrium at Rocky Hill
Josie Roman, 63, also says she has no plans on retiring from her community, The Atrium at Rocky Hill. If she worked at something other than an assisted living community that would be another matter.
“I would definitely be retiring if I didn’t have this chance to interact with our residents and their families,” she explains. “My dream was always to work with seniors.”
Josie has been working at the community for 15 years as a receptionist. She said she wanted to give back to caregivers and older adults after experiencing her mother’s journey with illness, and eventually her death.
“I admired all the medical staff for everything that they did for my Mom. While being with my mother in the convalescent home, I saw other residents who didn’t have visitors,” Josie recalls. “I wanted to do something about that. We all need companionship throughout our lives.”
That includes herself. “I need this connection,” she says, after joking at the front desk with the husband of a resident. “They are my second family. I can’t be away for more than five days without missing them and wondering how this one or that one is feeling.”
Andril Das, Waltham Crossings
This month is a bittersweet one for 84-year-old Andril Das. He will be retiring on May 31 after 22 years of working as a dishwasher at Waltham Crossings.
The Crossings was his first and has been his only employer since he immigrated to the United States from Haiti in 2000. He has been supporting his family in Haiti all these years but plans to return soon. His wife had suffered a stroke and following the earthquake in his native country, Andril decided it was time to return home and retire – although he believes he could work for many more years.
“I am still very strong, you know,” the former farmer says, raising his arms and flashing a wide smile.
Andril said working at Waltham Crossings has been a pleasure because everyone – from the staff to the residents to leadership – treats each other with respect.
“They respect me, and I respect everybody. When I first came here, everyone did everything to help me,” he says. “I love this job. I will miss everyone.”
Debra Madura, The Village at South Farms
Debra Madura has worked in the hospitality industry for 50 years, starting at Friendly’s when she was 16. She started working in dining services at The Village at South Farms two years ago and wishes she found the community sooner.
“The residents are family … like my grandmothers and grandfathers,” she explains. “I see the same people every day. They love to talk, joke, and share stories.”
Debra said her rapport with residents probably has a lot to do with her experience. “You need to have a lot of patience, something that I think we all get better at in life. You need to be relaxed and patient. This is their home, don’t forget,” she explains. “I also have shared experiences with them that makes connecting so much easier.
“I think and hope I bring a little bit of happiness to them all. I know I enjoy their company,” adds Debra.