Growing up in small Ukrainian community, the best part of Nataliya Nunes' childhood began at age 10 or 11, when she visited elderly neighbors after school and brought her mother's homemade food, a helping hand and companionship. "That's when my caregiving experience started. My mother sent me out with the food to see the seniors who had no family members or none close by," Nataliya said.
"For those elderly neighbors, I also would do chores, including dishwashing and running errands for groceries and other shopping, as well as sitting with them and talking because most were lonely. I would hear their lives' stories. They would hold my hand and say, 'Thank you, Nataliya, for coming,' Overall, I was a soft touch for anyone or anything that needed help, including stray dogs. I would find something for them to eat or bring them home," Nataliya recalled.
"I was a teenager when my mother, my brother and I moved to a bigger city to live with my grandmother, who had dementia. Grandma was a role model to me. Mom would go to work, and my brother would go to the Naval Academy. I would stay with my grandma. As her dementia got worse, she no longer remembered me so I had to figure out how to get her to recognize me. I'd say, 'Grandma, look at my eyebrows. Who do they remind you of? Then she would say, 'Me!' And I would say, that is because you are my grandmother. We are family."
Later, in the U.S., Nataliya became a family caregiver for her mother. "In 2012, seven years after she moved here, Mom was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. I managed everything for her. It was a difficult journey, but after the medical treatments that included chemo, she was declared free of cancer, although she continues checkups. She dropped to 95 pounds during chemotherapy. I love her very much," said Nataliya, who came to the U.S. in 2002 and became a citizen in 2007.
"When you talk about family caregiving, of course there is my experience with my two children," said Nataliya, who joined Home Instead Senior Care® of the Northern Shenandoah Valley in Winchester in January 2016 and was honored as September CAREGiver of the Month for owner Keith Clay's award-winning franchise.
"I was a stay-at-home mom, but as my children grew older, I wanted to find a job. I saw an internet advertisement for Home Instead Senior Care. I thought, 'That's what I've done all of my years.' I knew I could do that here as I did it where I grew up."
When discussing the contrasting changes and similarities in her life, Nataliya pointed out, "America is for me because it is literally my adopted mother. I love being here. I love the opportunities here, the Land of the Free. Americans are friendly people who are willing to help one another, including new Americans. I earned my citizenship and am very proud of it. As an American, I feel compelled to give back. Of course, I am proud of my upbringing."
Some Home Instead Senior Care clients are curious about Nataliya's background because many of them are descendants of immigrants and some fought in World War II. "Since I come from Europe, I can relate to the older clients who might have served in the military and were overseas," Nataliya said. "No matter their backgrounds or mine, compassion is an international language, and everyone understands it and craves it."
The significance of her job is not lost with Nataliya, who explained: "It makes me feel as if I always want to go to work. It is more than just a job. This job completes my life. I love what I do, and it is all worth it. The clients need someone who care about them. I want my clients to feel safe, secure and comfortable, and I want to win their smiles. Even if I come home tired, I know something good has happened during my shift. It is a priceless feeling you get. Rewards come back to you in satisfaction."
Having served as part of 24/7 CAREGiver teams, Nataliya noted: "A big part of the job is connecting with other CAREGivers while helping around-the-clock clients. There must be good teamwork and coordination. The training is good, including the ongoing education. I get lots of information. If I have any questions, all I do is call the staff."
Nataliya added: "Home Instead Senior Care is my commitment, and for very good reasons that go beyond my clients and their families. The staff and fellow CAREGivers have become my extended family, just like my clients and their families. The schedulers have very hard jobs filling shifts and making client-CAREGiver matches, and they do a wonderful job and are good matchmakers. If I need anything, they respond quickly. They are good communicators. The staff believed in me and gave me a chance. I work with very wonderful people."
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