Lucy Allen is not your typical caregiver. For starters, she is almost 78 years old. She is originally from a town called Catania on the island of Sicily, Italy, and was orphaned in World War II. Allen also is a veteran of the United States Army.
Armed with a great attitude and plenty of life experience, Allen works with the Right at Home of Columbia, South Carolina, office, where her main objective is to put a smile on her clients’ faces.
“Oddly enough, my military training has served me well as a caregiver,” says Allen. “There are days when a challenge might make you want to give up, but you just keep pushing forward.”
An Orphan of WWII: Her Journey to America
Allen was orphaned as a result of World War II, and grew up in a convent/orphanage that was run by nuns in the town of Milazzo, Italy. When she was just 10 years old, Allen was sent to America to help care for the Mother Superior’s family. After her ward passed away, the family decided to take Allen in, raising her as one of their own in Staten Island, New York, and helping her become an American citizen.
At age 20, Allen took a job with the Public Health Service Hospital in Staten Island and trained with two registered nurses to become recognized as an active practical nurse with the government. She met and married a respiratory therapist who also worked at the hospital during that same time. Allen decided to take a break from nursing when they moved to Minnesota.
Joining the Army Reserves
“I became a very bored housewife,” Allen recalls. “I saw an ad one day for the United States Army Reserves and decided to apply, even though I was already 34 years old. I got in and applied to go overseas to Germany. I was trained as an in-service recruiter for the Army Reserves, and I ended up staying in Germany between 1979 and 1988.”
When Allen returned stateside, she was stationed in Indiana, where she worked for the Indiana National Guard.
“I did a little bit of everything for the National Guard, but I ended up having to take six years off for personal health reasons,” says Allen. “I didn’t like civilian life, so I worked hard to get my health in good-enough shape to get back into the Reserves, and eventually was back with the Indiana National Guard in a part-time capacity.”
To fill her spare time, Allen took a job at Purdue University as an evening library clerk. She eventually retired from the Army at age 61 but kept working at the Purdue campus library until her adoptive parents, who were living in New Jersey, got sick. Allen quit her campus job and returned to the East Coast to care for her aging parents.
An Accidental Caregiver
Although Allen had gotten her start in America as a young caregiver, she never really expected to have to tap into those same skills again in her lifetime. But when her parents needed her, she sprang into action.
“Even after all those years, I was able to put my old nursing training to good use to care for my parents,” says Allen. “After my parents passed away, my husband and I moved to South Carolina, and I fell into the role of caregiver again when he got sick.”
In the midst of caring for her husband, Allen says she had her own health scare and was not able to provide the level of care her husband required. Through the hospital-to-home program, Allen was connected with Mike Brown, Vice President of Operations at Right at Home in Columbia, South Carolina.
“My first experience with Mike was as a client,” says Allen. “Right at Home was able to provide care for both my husband and me at various times, and I always appreciated the warmth, professionalism and high standards of care. We developed a nice relationship over the years.”
Eventually, Allen decided to ask Brown if she could work as a part-time caregiver with Right at Home.
“I was 76 years old, so he needed me to get clearance from my doctor,” says Allen. “Once that came through, he put me right to work!”
She started slowly, taking on a few sporadic hours in November 2018, and eventually built up her confidence to take on more work. By May 2019, Allen had a full-time workload with Right at Home.
“The beginning felt a little strange because I was caring for people around my age, or even younger, but now it’s part of my everyday life and very normal,” she says. “I am working with three different clients right now, and I love being able to put a smile on their face despite what they might be going through. It’s so nice to be there to help them.”