For Wendy Stopani, what began as part-time work as a certified nursing assistant at St. John’s Home on Highland Avenue has led to a fulfilling career as a “Shahbaz,” or universal worker, at one of the Penfield Green House Homes.
“We do everything,” Wendy said from the Moore House in March of 2015. She said the difference between being a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at the Highland campus and a Shahbaz at the Green House is like night and day. “It’s a very different atmosphere,” she said. “It really feels like a home, and like my second home.”
At the Moore House, Wendy was even reunited with someone with whom she worked at St. John’s Home, a woman named Dorothy. “I’ve gotten to know her a lot better here,” Wendy said. “It’s easier to develop real relationships.”
Wendy said she loves the philosophy behind the Green Houses and wishes more could be built in the Rochester area. She especially loves the freedom and choices the elders have, waking up and going to sleep when they want, eating when and what they want. “If you want a snack in the middle of the night, go for it,” Wendy said. “You want to sleep in until 11, that’s OK, too.” Breakfast is made to order by the Shahbaz in charge of cooking at the time. And if they are able, the residents can help out in the kitchen.
“It all really promotes a better quality of life,” Wendy said. Although there is a nice flat-screen TV that shows old movies and whatever anyone may want to watch, the residents are rarely just sitting on the couch watching. Instead, there are board games to play, a garden filled with vegetables to tend, field trips to go on, and other seasonal activities in which everyone participates. Wendy remembers picking apples from trees across the street and making a pie with a late resident named Lou, with whom she had a strong connection.
“I love all the elders,” she says. “Those who have passed stay in your heart forever.” Wendy says her favorite part of the day is dinner time, where everyone shares more than just food. “They’re really into knowing about your life,” Wendy says of her second family at the Moore House. “They ask about my kids and they all know them from the times I bring them in to visit. I love that I can bring them here.” Her son Griffin, 10, has even played his trombone a few times during lunch.
Wendy and her husband Michael celebrated their 13th anniversary in November. They live in Chili and have three children, ages 7, 8, and 10, who all take karate. They also have a house full of pets including a dog, four cats, and “tons of fish.” At her home away from home, Wendy is also happy to have the Moore House dog, Lexi.
A former cake decorator at Wegmans, Wendy was inspired to get her CNA license by her sister, who is a registered nurse. After 10 years of working at St. John’s Home, she was picked to work in the Moore Green House. “I feel so lucky to work here,” she said. “All the Shahbazim are awesome. We work side by side as a team, day in and day out taking care of these amazing people.”
Regarding the self-directed nature of the work at the Green House, Wendy said she has never been in an environment like it before. “Rather than being told what to do, we’re in control to make decisions as a team. It’s really empowering.”
In terms of the rotating responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and shopping, Wendy admits she is not a good cook. “But Annette is top notch,” she said, referring to a fellow Shahbaz. “Instead of getting scolded if I do something wrong, it’s ‘Let me show you how to do it my way.’ The communication is great and I learn from it. We’re all different but we make it work.”
When she is not seeing to the needs of the residents or running around with her kids, Wendy likes taking photographs of the residents at Moore House. From the hundreds she has taken, Wendy recently made a few calendars. “I love being creative,” she said. “The photos in these calendars keep the memories alive.”
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