Written by: Diana Wallenberg
What does home mean to you? The word home calls to mind the delicious scent of your favorite meal cooking in the kitchen, the comfortable place you always sit and watch your favorite show or read an enjoyable book, or being surrounded by people who love and care for you. Maybe, to you, home is simply a place where you are free to be and do whatever you desire.
For campus administrator Cherie Camuel, and executive director Barbara Mekenye of Aurora on France, creating a home for the senior community in Edina is more than a job; it’s a passion.
A Passion for Serving Others
In any nurturing home, the members share a love of service and a profound sense of empathy for one another. These have always come naturally to Mekenya and Camuel.
Barbara first recognized her compassion for others at an early age. As a teenager growing up in Kenya, Mekenye realized that serving others was one of her greatest abilities. After graduating from school in America, Barbara’s followed the call to serve led and started a career in senior health care as a nurse. Mekenye’s ability to extend top-tier care to her clients now extends to the role of executive director at Aurora on France. As executive director, Barbara oversees every new hire; she is highly selective when choosing the right candidate for any position because her dedication to Aurora’s residents is her priority.
Cherie also grew up knowing that helping others was her calling in life. Camuel’s path of service began at university where she studied to become a nurse. While there she quickly realized her abilities were better suited to accounting. Cherie’s sincere desire to serve others led her to administration in senior health care. Camuel credits her firm conviction for assisting others and doing the right thing as the reason she faithfully caters to the individual needs of each resident at Aurora on France. Cherie considers her work deeply fulfilling, stating, “[I] fell in love with long-term, skilled care…the interaction you have with residents and [being] there every day for them and their families.”
As a team, these two women resolved that Aurora on France would be more than assisted living, it would be a home.
A house that has become a home holds years of memories; raising children, birthdays, graduations, weddings, and grandchildren. Moving from such a treasured place comes with its fair share of sadness. No one understands the complex emotions her resident’s experience, as well as Mekenye. In her words, “For anybody to move at any time it is a heartache…we try to be very sensitive to the change in dynamic that [our residents] go through.”
Barbara and Cherie channel their empathy into establishing a feeling of trust with each person in their care. The women understand that their residents are making a difficult choice; they are leaving behind one home to make a new one. From extending the hand of friendship to inquiring guests and home visits before your move to better understand your individual requirements, to making sure you have all the comforts of home from the moment you move in; these two ladies spare no effort in making this a smooth transition for new residents.
Mekenye and Camuel are dedicated advocates for their residents, as a result trusting relationships flourish between the staff and seniors living in Aurora on France. By the time moving day arrives, most new residents feel like they are coming home.
Help Them Feel at Home
The personality of a home comes from the people living in it and no two homes are exactly alike. Camuel understands it takes an individualized touch to make a house into a home. She encourages her residents to make their apartment their own, and reach out with any specific needs that may arise. Residents are surrounded by familiar furniture, mementos, and often the people they love most. What’s more, Cherie makes sure residents who move to Aurora on France experience a vibrant, diverse community where they can continue to engage in activities they have always enjoyed.
Equally as important to creating a home is the anticipation of comfort and convenience. Mekenye’s directs her staff to fulfill this expectation for residents at Aurora on France. Before Barbara makes a new hire, she carefully vets each applicant to ensure that they have a passion for their work. Each person on staff at Aurora on France is expected to go above and beyond to accommodate every resident’s unique preferences and requirements.
As an example of this passion for creating a comfortable home environment, Barbara recalls one resident who moved in and was visibly uncomfortable in her new home. Because she struggled with limited mobility, the resident was unable to bend down and reach into her kitchen cabinets. The day after she voiced this concern, the cabinets in her kitchen were fitted with sliders so that she could feel at home in her kitchen.
Both Camuel and Mekenye agree that moving once is stressful enough, which is why once residents settle in, they never have to move again. Cherie states, “You might not need any services once you move in, but you don’t have to move to another apartment [when you do require assistance] …we bring our assisted services to you.” She along with everyone at Aurora on France are passionate about making sure residents make their new house a home.
Create Personal Connections That Last
When you’re at home, you’re with family, which is why both Cherie and Barbara foster strong connections with their residents and form long lasting relationships with the men and women they love to serve. The warmth and support of a family are visible even from the outside looking in.
This atmosphere was apparent at Aurora on France before it opened its doors; inspiring one man to call and request transitional care months before the facility was complete. According to Camuel, “He called us before we were even open and said he wanted to stay with us…we still have his picture posted at the nursing. Cherie and Barbara keep in touch with him to this day.
Their passion and generosity are contagious. Because of the family environment Barbara and Cherie have created at Aurora on France residents love where they live, and many transitional care patients miss being there so much they return to volunteer.
Home is Where the Heart Is
While Aurora on France is an exceptional home for seniors, Barbara and Cherie aren’t satisfied to create a network of support for her residents confined within its four walls. Her vision for the future includes a wider community effort.
According to Barbara, their goal is for, “seniors in the larger community to feel free to enjoy our programs” and “the neighborhood to come in a volunteer…and mix with the [residents}. In Mekenye’s and Camuel’s passion for service, their aim is to inspire the surrounding community to give back to the senior residents in their care.
These two remarkable women are more than caregivers or professionals. Through Camuel’s and Mekenye’s passion for serving the seniors of Edina, they are creating a warm and inviting environment for their residents and making what could be a painful transition as comfortable as possible. They may not know it, but Barbara and Cherie are the heart that makes Aurora on France a home.