For countless holiday seasons, angel trees filled with wishes for children have stood tall in department stores and medical facilities. Donna Brandy of RCS Home Healthcare couldn’t help but think of all the seniors she interacts with who don’t have family members to spend this special time of year with, let alone receive gifts. Three years ago, Donna Brandy created Senior Angels to pursue just such projects.
Since its beginning, Donna Brandy has recruited sponsors from organizations across the Region to spread holiday cheer to seniors in need. The objective is to expand into a yearlong initiative, and with all the positive results of her efforts, plus the addition of a stellar new team, Senior Angels will no doubt continue to grow.
On Thursday, the Senior Angels gathered at Miller’s Merry Manor in Hobart to discuss new ways to touch the senior community. Having recently hosted successful Stuff the Ambulance events at Walgreens in Hobart and Southlake Mall, the next order of business is a Wrapping Party. Community members have nominated local seniors they feel are in need of a little extra love this season, and the Senior Angels will be wrapping gifts to deliver to the chosen individuals.
In between their planning, we took a moment to speak with some Senior Angels about why they choose to sponsor their senior community.
McKenzie Hojara, Administrator for Miller’s Merry Manor - Hobart, and Nancy Johnson, Admission Director for Miller’s Merry Manor – Hobart
Having just joined the Senior Angels team this past year, Hojara and Johnson expressed their excitement to continue cultivating their passion.
“[Senior Angels] is so important to us because we’re here to serve seniors,” Hojara said. “Miller’s is a 100% employee owned company, and we’re enriched by so many small towns across Indiana, from Northwest Indiana to Southern Indiana. This building’s been here for 45 years. We’ve been enriched by the Hobart community, and we know a lot of seniors out in this community, so any chance to give back to them is special to us.”
“Working with the seniors here in the building, we have to remember there are so many other seniors out there that have no family or are forgotten and truly need help,” Johnson added. “I run into families every day, and just listening to them, there are families that are so desperate. So if we can help them here and out in the community, that certainly is a blessing for us.”
Both women are humbled to work with other companies who share their passion and to continue enriching seniors’ lives.
“The seniors in the community helped all of us at one point,” Hojara said. “My grandparents were a huge influence in my life, they shaped me into who I am today. Any chance to give back to [that community], we want to take. We don’t want them to be forgotten.”
Shawn Plys, Store Manager for Hobart Walgreens
When Donna Brandy happened to stop at the Walgreens pharmacy one day as a customer, she immediately took note of the way the employees treated each customer with care. She also was moved by all the ways Shawn Plys and her team involved themselves in the surrounding community, particularly the senior community.
Donna Brandy enlisted Plys’ assistance for Senior Angels, and she was only too happy to oblige.
“We have a lot of seniors in the area that need an extra hug, or that extra minute for somebody to listen. They don’t really ask for anything extravagant—just basic necessities, like soaps, body washes, crossword puzzles, sensory gifts, things like that,” Plys said, of the angel tree they placed in Walgreens for the Miller’s Merry Manor residents. “I think it’s important to go the next step and give that individual touch. That’s part of what being a Senior Angel is all about.”
Plys has been assisting Donna Brandy for the long haul now, but it wasn’t until recently that she was struck by how huge the program has become.
“She is phenomenal,” Plys said of Donna Brandy. “I don’t know how she does it. We don’t have a lot of people like Donna who are taking care of the community to this extent. She goes way beyond her job description with the Senior Angels, and it’s incredible, what they do.”
Cynthia Spencer, Yuvonia Coleman, and Rayshonda Moore, Medical Social Workers for Oak Street Health
Oak Street Health is tailored to patients who are over 65, so Spencer and Coleman are well acquainted with area seniors in need of assistance.
“We have a lot of homeless patients and elderly patients that don’t have family members, so we’ve always looked for ways to give back and volunteer to them,” Coleman said. “We deal primarily with seniors, and a lot of seniors do have seasonal depression. We want them to know that we’re a pillar in the community.”
The Senior Angels donated gifts to Oak Street Health patients last year. This year, the Oak Street team decided to pay it back.
“We see the need, we see patients who are suffering. Everybody wants to know that somebody cares about them,” Spencer said. “We partnered with Donna to be an asset to them.”
Moore, who never had grandparents to cherish the holiday season with, cherishes the opportunity to wrap gifts for them and treat them specially this season, and she’s excited to share that with her own daughter.
“You tend to think it’s just the seniors in nursing homes who are left behind, but sometimes it’s the ones in their own homes, too,” she said. “I really hope [organizations like Senior Angels] enact bigger change.”
Moore explained that some seniors need in-home attending care (in other words, someone to sit with them and keep them in company) similarly to how some need in-home nursing care. She hopes that, someday, insurance companies will allow for that type of accessible care.
“The longer seniors are in their homes, the less they’re hospitalized, and the happier they are,” Moore said.
Greg Farley and Rob Storey, Co-Owners of Amada Senior Care
Having just about rounded out their first year in business, Farley and Storey found that Senior Angels encapsulated everything they loved about the industry.
“We do companion care, so we work with companies like RCS, and it was brought to our attention that [Senior Angels] partners with other companies to support our community, and that’s something that Rob and I are both fully on board with,” Farley said. “That’s why we got into this industry, to be able to provide service and volunteer our time to this community in need.”
“It’s very rewarding to help others,” Storey said. “It’s been amazing to see how much people are willing to help in this way, and how it affects everyone involved. We’re excited to be a part of it and glad to be able to give back to the community.”
Dru Bocek, First Midwest Bank
“Being a part of First Midwest Bank, service is key for us, and we strive to be a part of the community,” Bocek said. “A lot of people don’t understand what a bank can do until we show them.”
For her, the stand out moment is seeing their faces when they receive their gifts.
“They’re like any kid at Christmas,” she said warmly. “These are people who may not get any gifts at all, or have someone to share one with. It’s a very heartwarming, worthwhile endeavor.”
Bocek said that volunteers are always needed, and that need will only continue to grow.
“They say one out of two baby boomers are going to require some sort of care,” Bocek said. “They’re calling it the silver tsunami, and it’s here. We can always use more volunteers and more help.”
Walter Kowalczyk, Community Liason with Harbor Light Hospice
Kowalczyk had a particular memory from the recent Stuff the Ambulance event at Walgreens.
“This little kid, about 7 years old, came up with his mom, and they had purchased something specific for a senior,” he recalled. “We took him and his cart to the ambulance, so he was able to actually place his gifts in the ambulance, and that was just huge for him. You could tell that simple gesture really made an impact on him.”
Working in hospice, Kowalczyk understands the difference helping the elderly makes.
“Senior Angels has been a huge godsend, because we can focus our initiative and help out our seniors even more,” he said. “I think our organization already had that heart, but it’s been good to utilize it both within our company and outside of our company. All organizations should give back to the community, that philanthropic element is really important.”
At the end of the day, Rayshonda Moore put it best: “Healthcare companies can be competitive, but here we all are, putting our heads together to serve seniors as best as we possibly can. It’s a beautiful thing, working together for them.”