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Senior Care Scholarship: 2016 Winners

Caitlin Burm
By Caitlin BurmMay 31, 2016

A Place for Mom proudly announces the 2016 winners of the fourth annual Senior Care Scholarship!

Over 800 entrants demonstrated their extraordinary commitment to seniors this year, but only five are able to win a $1,000 scholarship for their dedication. Congratulations to our five winners — as well as fan favorite, Tasneem Pirani-Sheriff — whose essays are listed below. We thank all of our entrants for their wonderful submissions!

5 Senior Care Scholarship Winners

Here are the 5 winners of the 2016 Senior Care Scholarship. Click the winners’ names to read their exceptional essays about seniors:

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1. Joshua Olson
2. Rachael Greene
3. Sara Post
4. Dakota Brand
5. Cory Carr

Senior Care Scholarship Winning Essays

Joshua Olson, University of Minnesota Medical School

My grandpa Ted was the type of man whose life was a great story waiting to be told.

However, if you were to have a brief encounter with him, even in his final days on this earth, nothing about his laid-back approach to life would make you think that he was anything more than a simple jolly old man.

When often speaking of his humble roots in Marquette, Michigan, no one would know that this man’s early adulthood was shaped by the experiences of serving in the Naval Medical Corps during World War II.

Nothing about his amicable ability to always turn the conversation to address how your day was going would make you think that this man was inducted to the Michigan Tech Athletic Hall of Fame for setting several all-time ice hockey scoring records.

Growing up, I was amazed at his ability to make familial connections upon chance encounters with total strangers. Little did these people know that this man had explored the world, from risky trips behind the iron curtain of Soviet Russia to helping in the construction of giant cranes with American Hoist in the arctic circle.

In the final chapter of my grandpa Ted’s life, he was in-and-out of clinics, emergency rooms, hospital wards, and extended care facilities. He often had extended periods of absence away from my grandmother, due to her own failing health. Did the medical teams coordinating his care understand that this man was the patriarch to his wife, 2 sons, 3 daughters, 14 grandchildren and 1 great grand child?

While in the mind of my family, our storied grandfather was dearly beloved and the source of our familial pride. However, in the mind of the medical staff , was he anything more than the jolly old man in room 4 with the failing heart?

As a medical student, I have learned that even my most thorough social and family history often focuses on what is “pertinent” medically, but not personally. I have been personally guilty of trying to “keep patients on track” when interviewing elderly patients. Is this practice justified in an effort to provide “efficient care,” or does the cost of not allowing an elderly person to dignify himself or herself through relating their greatest accomplishments and stories far exceed that?

Though the memories of my grandfather’s final days are often painful to rethink, he had the blessing of dying at home, amongst his family, who knew the prolific life that he lived. His dignity was upheld in the last chapter of his life, and his legacy lives on through his family and friends, such as in this personal tribute.

While my grandfather’s life remains an example for me of a man dedicated to the service to others and personal achievement through hard work, it is the indirect lessons that I find myself most often reflecting on. I now find myself wondering what great experiences and stories will never be told of others due to no one caring to ask or listen. Is my patient, the quiet elderly man with hepatic failure in bed 6, an arms service veteran with a prominent athletic career like my grandfather? Most likely not, but does that mean that he doesn’t deserve the opportunity to tell his own unique story?

This is the lesson I will carry — that being merciful to others means hearing their stories. It means taking others seriously. It means diving into the chaos of other people’s lives. As a professional dedicated to the care of others, I find this a simple yet profound way of promoting patient dignity, even in the face of declining health. At the same time, I thank my grandfather for showing me what an incredible blessing and privilege it is to be invited to share in another’s life story.

Rachael Greene, Jefferson College of Health Sciences

I have been extremely fortunate throughout my life to meet the individuals I have. Growing up my grandmother was a nurse and my grandfather delivered medications to nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, so needless to say I was no stranger to the elderly community. Every visit I would go around to the residents and ask questions or ask to hear their stories. Even at a young age I was fascinated with their wit and wisdom. I can remember thinking “I wonder what all those old eyes have seen.” I always looked forward to my weekends and going to work with my grandfather, little did I know then that those visits were likely the highlight of some resident’s day.

Although I was only a child, I distinctly remember a conversation my grandfather and I had one afternoon leaving a retirement community. He explained to me how some kids get scared or uncomfortable in that kind of environment, and he was proud of me for not judging them for how they looked. Then he taught me something that has stuck with me to this day, he said “everyone grows old sugar, and unfortunately as that happens people can begin to feel less important, but no matter what age or condition you are in, everyone deserves to feel meaningful.” I had never heard something that touched my heart in that way before. From that point, my passion for helping the elderly began to grow.

I attempted to integrate my passion into as many aspects of my life as I could. Once I was allowed to get a job I began working as a dining room server for The Glebe Retirement Community in Botetourt County Virginia. I spent over four years at this facility and learned more about life and love than some learn in their lifetime. As I grew attached to these men and women I also had to learn about loss. I had never dealt with loss in my own family at that age, so when I lost my first close resident I had to learn how to deal with that kind of heartbreak. I spent a few of my evenings after work going to visit my residents in the hospital and holding their hand letting them know what a positive impact they made on my life. I received so much love and support from these residents and their families throughout the years, and it was because of my grandfather’s wisdom as a child to make them feel meaningful.

When the time came to start thinking about career options I knew the direction I wanted to go. Helping others, especially the elderly, was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. The physical therapy field is an occupation I had long admired, so I decided to shadow and volunteer at The Glebe where I worked. I immediately fell in love with how rewarding it was to help these individuals accomplish their goals and watch them heal. I had finally found a way to help these residents, just like they had helped and taught me every single day. Ever since those experiences I have worked to make that career possible.

To name one senior in my life that has inspired me is not a fair question. Truthfully I have been inspired by countless senior citizens throughout my life, and each of them impacted me in so many different ways. From men and women who have travelled the world to individuals that grew up with nothing to their name have taught me countless lessons by sharing their life experiences. By me being genuinely interested in what these people had to say, I have become richer in knowledge, wisdom, and humor than any of my peers. My grandfather’s lesson will be the foundation of my career, and I truly believe by making each individual feel they are important to me and others will help improve each life I touch.

Sara Post, Ivy Tech Community College

A poster in my classroom reads, “If you don’t have time to do it right, you must have time to do it again.” I never heard my grandmother, Mom-Mom, say those words exactly, but it could have easily been her catch-phrase.

Mom-Mom was a self-taught seamstress who sewed and made alterations for many years at The Golden Rule, a department store in my hometown. After The Golden Rule closed, she had several loyal customers who came to her for alterations and custom-made clothes. She sewed my mother’s wedding dress, as well as clothes for my sisters and me throughout the years.

Mom-Mom began teaching me how to sew when I was quite young. She started by teaching me the basics; I learned to cut and sew straight lines and made pillowcases. I worked my way up to sewing dresses. I was never as proud as that Easter Sunday when I wore my navy blue, cotton dress with pink and white flowers dancing across the full skirt and puffy sleeves; the dress that Mom-Mom had helped me create.

Through all the sewing lessons, Mom-Mom was always reminding me to slow down, take my time, and do it right the first time. After I would finish a seam at a breakneck speed, she would take a look at my work and often hand me the seam ripper because I needed to rip out the seam and sew it again. It was very frustrating as a kid to be told that my work simply was not good enough. At the time, it seemed like she was nit-picking just because she could, but she was actually teaching me a very important lesson: if you don’t have time to do it right the first time, you must have time to do it again.

Eventually, I learned that I could save myself a lot of time, frustration, and extra effort just by slowing down and doing it the way she told me to do it the first time. It took many years, many tears of frustration, and many miles of ripped out seams to realize this important lesson. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to learn it from Mom-Mom.

As I embark on a career in nursing, I know that this lesson will serve me well regardless of the age of the person I am caring for. In everything I do, I know there is the right way and there are numerous wrong ways. The wrong way may initially accomplish the goal, but will eventually need to be redone the proper way. More than that, shortcuts in nursing could mean much more than just needing to do something over, it could be a matter of life and death for the person I am caring for. Not only will I not have the time to do my work twice, but it may be too late to do it the right way if a shortcut harms someone.

Anytime I sit at my sewing machine, I still hear Mom-Mom’s voice reminding me to sit up straight and take my time. I know that I will have that same calm, reassuring voice reminding me to always do my best, take my time, and do it right the first time when I am carrying out my duties as a nurse.

Dakota Brand, University of St. Francis

His eyes were clear, light blue and they would crinkle when he would conspiratorially whisper something to me, usually right in front of my grandma and always something that would make her roll her eyes and always make me laugh. My grandfather taught me so much in my life, not just how he lived, but also how he died.

Born in 1938, the son of a first generation German immigrant and a carpenter James Middendorf grew to be a tall, thin man with a full head of dark, wavy hair. He set a new standard in frugality, rolling duct tape around his tennis shoes when they started tearing and saying you only need two pairs of pants, one to wear and one to wash. He put close to 200,000 miles on his Rambler, laying 2×4’s down when the floorboards wore out and using a screwdriver to start it when the key broke in the ignition. Rare was it to spend money on himself, but he would freely invest his time and money in time on his family. It was important to him to take us all away to places where we would spend time together. His favorite spot was a very rustic cabin tucked away in the Sawtooth mountains. It had no television, no telephone, no dishwasher and heat came from a pot belly stove, but it was chock full of love and fun. I know now that we scared away more fish than we caught, but he was always so patient, showing us how to cast and detangle our lines. We would take turns making the meals and doing the dishes and it taught me about cooperation and how work is just a little bit lighter when everyone pitches in. He would instigate competitions, whether it was who could build the best wooden boat out of the wood scrap pile, who could catch the biggest fish, the most fish, or the smallest fish, he always made it fun. Grandpa also had a great sense of humor. He was full of practical jokes, like having us mow his lawn just a little bit shorter on one neighbor’s side or building snowmen in their driveway. He taught me about loving life and the people in it.

My grandfather taught me so much about life, about how to live it, but the most impactful lesson he taught me was how he handled the end of his life. He had watched his own father die of Alzheimer’s, losing his mind, then losing control of his body, to the point that the last ten years of his life, his father did not know his name. He had to be feed liquids because he had forgotten how to swallow. My grandfather said that he was never going to be like that. He said he’d walk out in the woods and take care of things. That scared me, more than a little, but there was no arguing with him. Years flew past until, one day, his ordeal began. As a snowbird, he was down in Arizona for the winter when he had an episode where he did not know who anyone in the room was. Not his neighbors and not even my grandmother. He said he was panicked, scared down to his bones. Then, he said he saw my picture on the refrigerator and he instantly knew me. He reckoned it to a lifeline and he held with both hands. The episode passed after a few hours and he came back, but he knew it had come his turn to carry the cross. He insisted they sell the Arizona house and move back to Illinois to stay year round. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with his family. He was diagnosed shortly after with Alzheimer’s disease. I was worried he would end his life, but his decision to live in spite of the death sentence was amazing. Instead of cashing it in, he decided he was not going to give up a single day that God gave him. He quickly became more than my mom could handle and accepted the new home he was moved to. I would visit him several times a week and he was always happy to see me. He took joy in small things, such as a piece of chocolate, being taken for a walk or just having someone there with him.

My grandfather bore a tragic illness with a strength and grace that I did not expect. He taught me his greatest lesson, to be grateful for the gifts we have in life and to understand the impact we can have on other’s lives. I decided soon after his passing to become a nurse. I saw how important it was to provide quality of care and the impact it made on the elderly. Little things we do may not seem like much to us, but I have seen firsthand how much of an impact they make on the elderly.

Cory Carr, West Virginia University at Parkersburg

I grew up on a 300 acre farm in rural West Virginia. My fraternal grandparents lived about 200 yards away and were a regular influence in my life. My grandmother taught me how to plant a garden, how to sew, and a little bit of how to cook. My grandfather taught me to tie knots, drive a tractor, split wood, and the century old proper method of stacking hay bales on a wagon, but the most important lesson he ever taught me was that of stewardship.

Around the time I was a freshman in high school, we were learning about European crests and house mottos. I decided to ask my grandfather if our family had a motto. He paused for a moment and said he would tell me what his grandfather had told him, stewardship. Don’t take more than you need, and take care of what you have. The idea is an old Christian ideal. We are the stewards of the earth and like the stewards of a king’s estate we are to watch over and utilize the world until the king returns. No king wants to return to a ruined estate so we must be “good stewards.”

We talked about it a little longer, sharing examples this idea being applied to our lives and came to the conclusion that stewardship applied to every aspect of life not just running the farm. It applied to family, neighbors, and business. The idea of good stewardship applies to your daily interaction with your fellow man. I have carried that lesson with me for over a decade now. I told this story to my wife when we got engaged. I have told it to younger cousins as they grew into men and women, and I will tell it to my son when he is old enough to appreciate and understand it.

Stewardship is central to my daily life and I will carry it into my profession. Stewardship at its core is being strong enough to accept responsibility for the care of what has been given to you and to be certain to provide the best possible care with patience and understanding. Working as a nurse, I will give the utmost care and respect to any patient under my charge accepting responsibility for their physical and emotional well-being. I will have the understanding and patience to take the extra time when facing a patient with dementia or other cognitive impairment. Furthermore, I will work to pass on this idea of stewardship to my coworkers and teammates in an effort to improve senior care company wide with the hope that someday it could be industry wide.

I believe that by combining my education of psychology and nursing with my ideals of stewardship I will be one of the very best in my field and provide the very best in care. Every patient has the right to receive treatment with care and dignity, and this is even truer for elderly patients. Like Andy Rooney said, “The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.” By being a good steward to my patients, I will have the opportunity to learn in hundreds if not thousands of classrooms.

Fan Favorite:

Tasneem Pirani-Sheriff, Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine

“Always remember to love, to laugh and to listen.”

Ever since I was a little girl, my grandma stressed the importance of this simple life lesson. At each stage of my life, these words took on a slightly different meaning. As a child, I associated these words with family and obedience. I should listen to my elders and love my younger brother, even though he annoys me sometimes. As a teenager, these words provided comfort. No matter what mistakes I made, I could always count on my parent’s love and support, and no matter what embarrassing situation may arise, laughing them off was always better than taking life too seriously. Later as an adult, I understood that love was a beautiful marriage of devotion and compromise, and that by finding a partner to love, I would also gain a partner to laugh with and someone who would always be there to listen.

The lessons my grandma has taught me have guided me through my years, and now that I am about to begin the next stage of my life as a naturopathic medical doctor, I realize, even more, how significant these lessons really are.

“Love is the bridge between you and everything.” — Rumi

Of all the treatments we as doctors prescribe to our patients, I’ve found that love is one of the most powerful medicines. Love in its many forms and manifestations — such as care, compassion, tenderness, appreciation and respect — can have significant actions. Love can heal wounds, build trust, decrease pain and create avenues for healing. Knowing that elder abuse is a growing concern in North America, I believe that my grandma’s lesson — remembering to love, to laugh and to listen — is even more relevant. As a future naturopathic doctor, my aim is to provide a caring and compassionate environment to support my geriatric patients throughout their healing journey. My deepest purpose is to create positive change by affecting and empowering my patients to achieve optimal health and wellness through education, positivity and nurturing support. And I intend to do so by remembering to love.

“Laughter is the language of the soul.” — Pablo Neruda

Laughter allows for healing of the body, mind and spirit. As we age, we gain knowledge, wisdom and a deeper understanding of the world—though too often, we lose our sense of light-heartedness and we forget to laugh. With laughter, anxiety reduces, mood increases, and “feel-good” endorphins are released. Remembering the lesson my grandma taught me, I will continue to laugh and encourage my senior patients to laugh, not only for the health of their physical body but also for the health of their soul.

“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” — Rumi

As a new doctor, overwhelmed with information, anxious about meeting the expectations of our doctor-patient interactions, and fearful of not knowing all the answers, we are always taught to go back to the basics. So I did. I recalled the lesson my grandma shared with me, “always remember to love, to laugh and to listen.” As I sat silently, began to quiet my mind and really be present for my patients, I heard them tell their story. I became aware of the details of their symptoms, noticed the intonations of their voice and picked up on the subtleties of the case. As I remembered to listen, I realized that my “case taking” and diagnosis skills increased significantly and my patient rapport and trust grew quickly. As a result, the treatment plans I created worked more effectively and the number of patient coming to see me grew through word-of-mouth.

As I move forward from being a naturopathic medical student into my own clinical practice in the field of geriatrics, I will continue to remember to listen — to my patients and my clinical reasoning and intuition. I believe it is essential to listen, especially when working with seniors and those with chronic pain who need an opportunity to be heard, and a health care practitioner who will take the time to listen.

Always remember to love, to laugh and to listen. These words have affected my life in more ways than I could have imagined. As a doctor, this lesson has guided my interaction with patients, deepened my understanding of medicine and connection, and increased the effectiveness of my treatments. I am grateful for my grandma’s pearls of wisdom. Because of her words, I have become wiser, and by passing them on to the patients I meet, I will be able to create positive change in the lives of others.

Caitlin Burm
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Caitlin Burm
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