Visiting Angels 2022 Caregiver of the year Paula Perez!
A few years ago, Bethlehem resident Paula Perez was working part-time as a crossing guard. Looking for a job with flexible hours where she could continue to make a difference in the lives of others, she found Visiting Angels, a program providing in-home care for adults. Now she is a semi-finalist for the company's National Caregiver of the Year award.
Tricia Wingerter, the owner-operator of Visiting Angels franchises in Bethlehem and Stroudsburg, exudes pride in Perez's work ethic and bone-deep caring. Wingerter notes that Perez is always one of the first to volunteer to cover a shift when another Angel calls in sick, an occurrence that has been more frequent over the past two years, due to quarantine regulations.
Perez's willingness to step forward when needed is only a small part of what makes her remarkable. Wingerter points out that in addition to the skills that Perez honed while caring for family members, she brings "something you can't train - compassion" to her work.
Perez is a lifelong Bethlehem resident who lives near her alma mater, Liberty HS, but also loves spending time on the Southside, where she spent her childhood surrounded by neighbors from a variety of cultural backgrounds. One of her favorite aspects of her work is the variety of clients, she says, recalling a client of Norwegian heritage who taught her to cook a whole new range of foods.
Perez is also extroverted, engaged, and sympathetic. She loves that her job gives her the flexibility to be involved in her large family's life - she is a great-grandmother - and she loves learning from her clients and helping them enjoy every day.
"Loneliness," she says, "is the worst disease in the world."
For most of the past two years, Perez has worked mainly with a client named Mary Ann, who has dementia. Although all Visiting Angels receive training on working with clients who have dementia, Perez has taken her care a step further by developing ways to make each day a pleasure for Mary Ann.
As Wingerter explains, the memory and communication struggles of some dementia patients can be upsetting for them. Perez helps Mary Ann by playing a Pandora music station featuring songs from her favorite era - and they both sing along. Wingerter also notes that although the familiar environment of a dementia patient's own home is often best, Mary Ann prefers to be out and about. Perez spends much of each day driving Mary Ann to places they enjoy: the market at the Allentown Fairgrounds; the Dollar Store; and further afield. A typical morning finds both ladies in the car, singing "That's Amore" along with Dean Martin.
There are 600 Visiting Angels locations nationwide, each with as many as 150 caregivers. Wingerter's written nomination of Perez was impressive enough to get her into the top 40. Then Wingerter and Mary Ann's family invited a videographer to shadow Perez at work and create the three-minute video that led to the national organization choosing her as one of their 11 semi-finalists.
And now... Paula has been named Visiting Angel's National Caregiver of the Year!