Profile of a Professional Caregiver: An Interview with a Caregiver of the Year Nominee
At Right at Home, we look for four distinct qualities in our caregiving staff: responsibility, dedication, reliability, and impeccable integrity. It’s not easy to find someone who possesses all of these characteristics, as well as a truly caring and compassionate heart. But that’s exactly what we’ve found in Jo Alyce Bennett, nominated as the Caregiver of the Year and a finalist for Regional Caregiver of the Year.
We recently interviewed Jo Alyce to learn more about what it takes to be an outstanding caregiver. We know you’ll enjoy hearing her perspective as well.
- Tell us a little about your background. I was born in Sarasota, FL, and spent 42 years in the education system, certified as a K – 3rd grade teacher and working in the superintendent’s office in transportation as well. Caregiving is my second career; I’ve been with Right at Home for ten years now.
- So your nurturing side began as a teacher! That, and my three boys! I was also the caregiver for my father until his doctor placed him in a nursing home. I took care of my mother until she passed at age 103. I have a husband who’s almost 93, and I make sure he continues walking the chalk line too!
- It looks like caregiving is not only your profession but your life calling. You’re touching a lot of people’s lives in that role. Can you give us an idea of what a typical day in the life looks like for you? I start by cooking breakfast for my great-grand niece and nephew who are five and seven years old. I take them to school and then I head to my clients’ homes. My first priority when I arrive is to make sure their day has a pleasant start. That’s one of the things I always try to accomplish. If you don’t have a pleasant start to the day, it can ruin everything. My days are full; tonight, for example, I won’t get home until 8:00pm. I love it though and have gotten used to a busy schedule after all these years.
- Think about the early days of your career in caregiving. What aspects of the job were most challenging, or required getting used to? One early struggle for me was knowing how to best help those with Alzheimer’s. I’ve learned to tap into each person’s pre-dementia life. I’ll learn all that I can about the person’s previous career, interests, favorite games, etc. and I make notes about all of that. Then I go shopping: games, puzzles, even outdoor games like golf clubs. It really makes a difference. I relied on my past teaching experience to help guide me. I would always find out what the kids I taught liked to play, what treats they liked best – and I brought that mindset over to caregiving. It’s all about making a personal connection.
- Do you find Alzheimer’s care to be more of a comfort/companionship role, rather than an engaging role? It’s some of both. Some of my clients live in an assisted living facility. We’ll all gather up together to watch Lawrence Welk at 7:00pm. Before you know it, someone gets up to dance, and then others join in, and I encourage that! I tell them they’re such good dancers. Even if someone is in a wheelchair, we can get out there and turn the wheelchair around to the music, so everyone can participate.
- What aspects of the job do you enjoy most and why? I love meeting new clients. I guide them back to their career and activities they were used to doing and would like someone to help them do now. I have one client who loves to play bridge, and she’s teaching me! On Wednesdays we start out by playing a game. We don’t always get through it, since I’m still learning! But it’s fun.
- It sounds like you have to be highly adaptable. You do. Each person is a unique individual. We all have different personalities.
- When you arrive at a client’s home, is there anything you do initially to ensure safety? Absolutely. I survey everything each time I come into the home, and if I see any red flags or anything is out of place, I will ensure it gets resolved. In one case, it was decided that we needed to disconnect the stove. I walked in and I felt the heat from the burners, and I knew turning the stove on was not a good thing for this client. When she mentioned the stove being broken and being unable to fix her tea, I told her that I will fix her tea and bring her crumpets too. So now we enjoy tea and crumpets together every morning.
- I would imagine you have a lot of insight in terms of understanding what kind of people might make good caregivers. The best caregiver is someone who is willing to work, who is willing to spend quality time with the client, and who knows how to speak to the client in a way that is respectful and kind. It’s about having a genuine interest in the wellbeing of the client.
- If you were to provide advice to someone considering a career as a caregiver, what would that be? I would say to read the book Still Alice. One new caregiver read that book after I recommended it, and then told her mom she was going back to school and wanted to specialize in Alzheimer’s care. Also understand that we all have strengths and weaknesses. None of us are good at everything. The Right at Home schedulers work hard to match you with clients who can benefit from your strengths. I also suggest keeping a small notepad with you and writing down things that are important throughout the day so you can refer back to it.
- What would you say is the secret to making sure your clients are happy? It’s all about getting to know them, what they like and dislike. Finding out what they like to eat is really important. I like to make small portions of things and say, “Let’s try this and see if you like the taste of it.” I have one client who learned to love eggs benedict this way. I also learned that she loved my oatmeal, so while I’m home making oatmeal for my family in the morning, I set aside a dish for her, add some raisins and chopped apples, and she’ll eat the whole bowl.
As you can see, caregiving is a passion for Jo Alyce – so much more than just a job. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a Right at Home caregiver, visit our Caregiver Careers page. We’re always interested in speaking with those who have a heart for nurturing and caring for others. Apply todayto join the team at Right at Home, at home caregivers for Venice, FL and the surrounding areas.