by Jim Hillman
Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but Beautiful elders are works of art.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
Tyra Gay came to work with elders at Caritas House nine years ago somewhat by accident. She was driving by Benson Avenue and saw a sign, “Jenkins Senior Living Community, Tea on Tuesdays.” She was intrigued and decided to turn up the drive. She then took the first turn to the right and chose the first entrance, which was Caritas House. Tyra filled out an application and was told she would be called back in three days. She was called back in two and was offered a job because of her experience working in the dining room at Spring Grove.
Tyra worked in the dining room for a little over a year as a Lead Dietary Aide when she had a revelation. She was getting to know the elders by name and interest. It came to her that she “needed to be hands-on with the elders.” So she asked if she could become an Elder Assistant. In order to prepare for the job, she took a course with the Red Cross and received a certificate as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Tyra has been an Elder Assistant now for over seven years and has been the Senior Elder Assistant on Garden Walk for three of those years.
One of the elders that drew Tyra into this new line of work was Ann Schneider, with whom she has developed a special relationship. Day after day, they talk about lots of things, such as Ann’s daughters, Patricia and Joanne, or one of her five grandchildren. Recently they attended the wedding of Elizabeth, one of the granddaughters, and had a grand time. At other times, Ann’s stories might drift to recollections of growing up on her father’s dairy farm. He delivered milk from the farm into the city. She says even though she didn’t milk the cows, she remembers that it was fun growing up on the farm.
Ann is one of those people who lives in the present. Much of her conversation revolves around things that are happening around her at Caritas House. She thinks everyone is so nice and enjoys the activities, such as arts and crafts. She does have some other very favorite things. She likes an occasional beer and loves crab cakes and chocolate cake. Mention chocolate cake, however, and it takes her from the present back to the chocolate cake her mother used to make from scratch for her and her two brothers, Eddie and Bill.
From time to time, Tyra has thought of making a change—to do something new; however, she loves her job. Actually, she doesn’t think of it as work when she is arranging activities for her elders. She likes to see that they always look good, feel good, get the most out of every day, and enjoy every moment. How could she leave? She thinks about them all of the time, even when she’s not at work. This is important to her because she feels that she is making a difference in Ann’s life and all of the elders with whom she works.