For Maria Bello, there is a familiar feel to the work she does at St. John’s Home. Caring for elder family members at home was always a reality in Maria’s life. She took those responsibilities seriously and sees a close correlation between the care she provided for her loved ones then and her duties as a shahbaz today. “I lost my grandparents when I was in my thirties,” says Maria, who has worked as a shahbaz on the Rose Neighborhood since last spring. “I think working with this population gives me the opportunity to feel like I’m helping my grandparents.”
Over the past year, Maria has had a firsthand view of the St. John’s transition to small homes and as a result, the increasing prevalence of the shahbaz role. While she understands how people could be hesitant embracing such a dramatically different type of long term care, she uses the example of her grandmother—the undisputed matriarch in her family—to illustrate the benefits of this more elder-centered philosophy. “If grandma wanted something different from what we were cooking—she got it. It’s the same here, giving elders that choice. I think that is important.”
Maria’s attitude towards her work sets an example for others. It is clear that the years of providing support at home to those closest to her combined with her experiences throughout a career in health care has shaped her unique perspective on delivering care. “You don’t have to do a lot to make someone feel better or to make their day,” she explains. “Sometimes it’s something simple.” Maria realizes that her role as a shahbaz is structured to allow for the extra time to share these personal moments with elders. Whether it is by helping an elder reorganize their closet or giving out a private manicure in an elder’s favorite chair, Maria takes every opportunity she can to bring a smile to an elder’s face. As she puts it, “I feel like whatever little thing I can do for them, can bring me great satisfaction. Spending the extra time with them is more than just giving them a pill.”
Maria’s authentic, unrelenting willingness to help others extends to her fellow team members as well. That positive example has not gone unnoticed and is regularly referenced by the employees who work alongside her. Lessons learned during her years working in hospital emergency rooms have impacted her mindset when it comes to the concept of teamwork. “Coming from the E.D., when you have a code, there aren’t really any (job) titles there. We had to do what was needed to save the person’s life.”
Along with her time in hospital emergency rooms, Maria has spent over two decades working in assisted living. Throughout that time, she has gradually completed formal nursing training and is now just two courses shy of becoming a Registered Nurse. She speaks of coworkers along the way who pushed her to continue her schooling when trials in her personal life made that pursuit difficult. Perhaps these experiences have also contributed to her ability to encourage those with whom she works. Figuratively speaking, she has walked in many of their shoes.
Today, Maria has found a home where her “take-it-on mentality” fits perfectly. This movement towards smaller neighborhood settings features versatile care workers functioning as part of a tight-knit team. “I just love it!” she says. “We’re the jack-of-all-trades. We just do it all. Whatever needs to get done gets done.”
More than anything, Maria feels fortunate to be working in an environment where every moment has the potential to be a meaningful one in the lives of the elders she serves. Perhaps, however, it is those who come in contact with Maria—the elders at St. John’s Home and the staff who are privileged to work alongside her—who are truly the most fortunate ones.