It takes a special type of person to work with older adults living with dementia. If you are doing it right, you are not just providing care for those facing the challenges that come with progressive memory impairment. You are providing comfort during times of stress and uncertainty. You connect with residents in ways that others cannot. Your compassion and responsiveness make a positive impact on the lives of residents every day.
Oneida Andujar exemplifies what it means to be a Shahbaz CNA at St. John’s. Her badge also says “Joy Champion,” a designation given to those dedicated caregivers who were selected to support residents living on St. John’s Beyond Memory neighborhoods. For Oneida, providing personal care is just the starting point. It is also about developing genuine friendships with them. “My job is to make them happy and to bring them joy,” says Oneida. “And to make them know that they are not alone.”
Oneida’s approach begins with forging meaningful relationships with those around her. “I was first a dining captain on this floor before I became a certified nursing assistant,” says Oneida. “Having those one-on-one connections with them—seeing the same people every day brought me closer to them.” It was not long before Oneida’s colleagues on the neighborhood took notice of those positive interactions with others that seemed to come so easily to her. Soon, St. John’s offered to cover her CNA training, putting her in a position to provide even greater support to the people she had grown to know and look after.
Now after four years in the Shahbaz CNA role, it is those moments of joy she helps create that stick out as the most enjoyable part of Oneida’s work. Speaking with her, you can tell that her own happiness is genuinely tied to making others around her feel noticed and appreciated. The idea behind Beyond Memory is to get to know residents on a much deeper level—that helps uncover the pathway towards those joyful moments about which Oneida speaks. Over a cup of coffee, she listens and uncovers hints—like a resident’s favorite activity or music that brings them comfort—which she later uses to create those meaningful moments that are important to everyone.
As she looks back at breakthroughs she made with residents, some now years later, a few of the meaningful resident connections she has built truly stand out. She recalls one gentleman who, like her, was of Puerto Rican decent. Others found him difficult to understand, but Oneida connected with him on a deeper level. How did she know this connection was made? “He would smile and just keep talking about his life,” Oneida explains. “All of the smiles and the laughs we had together really mean a lot to me.”
Over four years later, Oneida continues to bring joy to those around her while still impressing the employees she works alongside. “She is a wonderful, reliable CNA,” says St. John’s Neighborhood Administrator Wendy Strauss. “Oneida is definitely a St. John’s success story.”
Oneida’s success story continues to unfold. The next chapter starts in August when she begins her studies at the Isabella Graham Hart School of Practical Nursing. Becoming a nurse is something Oneida has dreamed of since she was a little girl and she knows this opportunity is a big step towards that dream. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time and I’m doing it,” she says.
While she attends nursing school, Oneida will continue to work on the St. John’s neighborhood she has been an essential part of now for almost seven years, albeit on a per diem basis. Once completed, she hopes to apply what she has learned with a future nursing position at St. John’s and even plans on becoming a nurse practitioner one day. At 26 years old, the possibilities appear to be endless for Oneida. “I’ve come a long way with St. John’s,” she says. “I just keep on growing.”