Doug has been our trusty driver since 2005, but his connection with the Little Sisters of the Poor is dated way before that! He’s a neighborhood boy come back! Doug was born and raised near 54th and Florence. Growing up, he would come over to help shovel snow off the steps leading up to the great big granite Home for 250 old folks at 54th and Chester.
How did he come to work at Holy Family Home? His brother-in-law drove the Residents’ Bus and the Begging Van for the Little Sisters for 15 years and was leaving for another job. He told Doug that this was a good place to work and Doug said: “He was right! I loved it as soon as I started and I still do. Mother Catherine interviewed me for the position and Sr. Mary Vincent taught me the ropes. Sure, she taught me all I know! I felt trusted and respected. Now this goes on-- the Begging Sister, Sr. Veronica, and I are connected. We work as a team! All is good!”
“Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep him from his appointed rounds.” That old postman’s slogan fits Nancy Sama, L.P.N to a T! We all agree!
For the past 12 years, Nancy has served at Holy Family Home and neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail would keep her from her nursing rounds. If someone might call in saying they couldn’t get to work, Nancy would say: “Not to worry! I live within walking distance; I’ll fill in!”
Nancy says she always had the ambition to become a nurse and take care of the elderly. When she moved from the Philippines to Philadelphia, she studied at Princeton Institute of Technology in Cheltenham. After passing State Boards and obtaining her Nursing License, she inquired about the facility she often passed by. That’s how she came to apply for a position at Holy Family Home. It was simply because she lived nearby.
Nancy claims she felt right at home when she discovered what went on within those walls at 54th & Chester. It was love at first sight! The Residents and Little Sisters won her heart. Eventually, she followed the year-long spiritual formation course to become a Jeanne Jugan Associate. This is a group of men and women who make a commitment “to serve the Lord in the elderly with joy and love, by following the example of humility and confidence left to us by St. Jeanne Jugan, the First Little Sister of the Poor.” Nancy continues to put this spirit into practice on a daily basis as she conscientiously carries out her nursing profession and then goes beyond, to find ways to make the Residents happy. The “extra mile” she goes by generously sharing her talents in manicuring, hairstyling, hand-sewing nametags and hems, etc. Occasionally, we even get a chance to realize: she’s a great cook too! May Nancy Sama continue to be a vital part of Holy Family Home for many years to come!
Nancy and her husband Tamba have been married for thirty years. Recently they had the joy of celebrating the graduation of their son, Jesse, from Drexel University, with a Master’s Degree in Data Science.
My name is ANTONETTE HARRELL, I was born in the Philippines. My mother is Filipina and my father is African American. I have two older sisters. I had a wonderful childhood. Everything was carefree. I was very close to my grandmother and my grandfather on my mother’s side and I have tons of cousins. We are all close-knit and very much family oriented.
My dad was born in Georgia. He was in the army and when the Japanese invaded the Philippines after they attacked Pearl Harbor, my father was sent there to fight side by side with the Filipino soldiers to liberate the country, which is where he met my mom. They were married for 72 years until he passed away last year at the age of 100.
My dad loved the Philippines more than anything else, but he wanted to give us a better life and the chance to go to school and work in America. It was very difficult when I first came here at age thirteen because it was a real culture shock. I didn’t know anybody besides my family and I spoke a little bit of English, but mostly the language from back home, which is Tagalog. It was a period of adjustment. I missed my cousins and my classmates. I was in my first year of high school when they enrolled me at West Catholic. There was a placement test and I ended up skipping two years. I was put in the third year of high school at age fourteen and I graduated at sixteen.
One of my mom’s friends knew of a friend who worked in a nursing home that was looking for a seamstress. She took me there and they gave me the job. It was so far away. At that time my father was working as a chef in Presbyterian Home. My father would have to be at work at 6 and I had to be at work at 7, so he would drop me off at the SEPTA train station at 4:30 in the morning. I did that for about a year but it was dangerous to be on a SEPTA platform at that time in the morning and I had to quit. After that, I went to community college of Philadelphia for one and a half years before beginning to work at Holy Family Home.
We actually lived close to here – we used to go Most Blessed Sacrament Church - but I didn’t wander too far from my house so I hadn’t seen Holy Family Home. A friend of my mother brought me here. That was 38 years ago! I filled out an application to be a caregiver and got the job. I had always been shy as a child and still am as an adult, and that’s probably why I chose night-shift. At that time, I wasn’t certified, but by my being here so long, and having learned on the job, I was grandfathered in as a CNA when this became the regulation.
I come from a culture where we take care of our elderly. When I was back home I had never heard of a nursing home. We all usually had our grandparents living with us - it’s ‘till death do us part’. We were able to care for my father until he passed away and we continue to take care of my mom who is 89. It’s something we had already been doing for our family back home so it just comes naturally to me to be a caregiver. That’s all I’ve known. It’s part of Filipino culture, it’s just how we are.
I love my job and feel like it’s my calling. I was raised to do this kind of work, to help people. I love to give them a chance to talk and hear what they have to say. Especially those who don’t have family. You can see the loneliness in their eyes. If you take the time to sit down to listen to them and hear their stories, what went on in their lives, you can’t help but be touched, to empathize with them. You never really know what some people are going through until you sit down and talk to them and they start to open up to you. Over the years we have had so many Residents that were very kind and loving. You get attached to someone and it’s very difficult when they pass away. It’s like losing a member of your family. They think of you as the children they never had, or they think of you as one of their own.
This is what fulfills me in my work, to be of some help, with physical things or if they just need an ear. Even just to give someone a little compliment, to notice something special and recognize and acknowledge it. As you can see I’ve stayed here this long! Holy Family Home also gave me the opportunity to bring my aunt, Anita Atienza here. She worked in the laundry for 11 years until she passed away from cancer at 54. She loved her job and the Little Sisters. Even though she was dying, all she was talking about was that she wanted to come back to work! One of my sisters is a nurse and my other sister works in a lab. We are all in the medical field and they have worked in their jobs for 40+ years. We tend to stick around, to be loyal.
Back in 2011, I was blessed and fortunate enough to be chosen as CNA of the Year and received the Ralston Caregiver’s Award. It was a very humbling experience for me. I’m very grateful to the Little Sisters of the Poor for giving me this opportunity to do something I already love doing!
My first introduction to the Little Sisters of the Poor and their work with the elderly began fifty years ago when some friends invited me to accompany them on a weekend to volunteer at the Little Sisters home in Germantown. Although I was curious, I wasn’t exactly sure it was something I was going to enjoy doing. Little did I know that this first encounter with the Little Sisters would have a major impact on my life from that point on.
As those who knew the Little Sisters back then would remember, the homes like Germantown had large sitting rooms where the Residents would spend their day together, sitting around watching television, reading, or doing other activities. The bedrooms were large dormitories with several beds separated by curtains. The Sisters lived in one section of the house, but spent most of the day with the Residents, caring for them, talking with them, and taking them outside to enjoy the nice grounds and some fresh air. I was always impressed by the kindness, patience, and obvious dedication of the Sisters to their work.
The Residents, too, were a joy to be around, always willing to tell a story or two about the past. More could be learned from listening to the Residents than from any book in school. Not unlike today, some had more infirmities than others, but something could be learned from each of them.
Over the years, the structure and layout of the homes may have changed, but the Residents have not. They are always happy to see the Sisters and enjoy the company of anyone willing to spend a little time with them. Our Residents welcome anyone into this happy family and make everyone feel as loved as their own child or grandchild. They continue to be a source of inspiration to me. I am still amazed at, not only their will to live and strength in time of illness, but their faith and acceptance of whatever life has in store for them.
Over the years the sisters unknowingly directed my path and led me to the work I have continued to enjoy doing for over thirty years. The Residents and Sisters have been in my life through times of great joy and extreme sadness. They celebrated with me at my wedding, rejoiced at the birth of my children, and cried with me over the death of both my parents. They have shown me what it really means to have faith to say,“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Accepting that invitation to volunteer for a weekend at the Little Sisters of the Poor so many years ago was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.
I first met the Little Sisters of the Poor back in 1972 when I was in the 8th grade. The Little Sisters came to my grade school to talk about their mission at St. Michael’s Home for the Elderly. They brought with them two Residents who were absolutely charming and delightful. They asked if anyone would be interested in coming to help them for a weekend. My girlfriend and I volunteered for the weekend and we both fell in love with the Residents.
At the time when we started going to the Home the Sisters had maybe one or two employees. The Sisters did all the work and we were there to help them. Imagine thirteen year old girls putting old people to bed, feeding, soaking feet, scrubbing floors, watching with the dying. I could go on and on. When we were working side by side with the sisters, we could just see the love in the old people’s eyes and it was mirrored in the eyes of the Sisters. Nothing was too much for them.
The elderly have their own personalities, fears and hopes. Age does not diminish one’s humanity. I have been inspired by many elderly who have weathered illness, death of a loved one, poverty and alienation during their lives and have still kept the faith.
The Little Sisters have always been a big part of my life. They are my extended family and many of them have watched me grow from a teen to a young woman. As a kid, there were eight or nine of us who faithfully came to the home every weekend to help the sisters. We had our own dormitory called, “Three and one half,” and there we would spend our weekends giving the Sisters grey hair. To this day the nine of us are still very close, and when we get together, we have many a laugh about our days at the home.
I do not know where my path would have taken me had I not been blessed with meeting the Little Sisters. They have been there for me whenever I needed them. The Little Sisters will always have a special place in my heart and I can never thank them enough. They have eased many a family’s burden.
Holy Family has been MY Home Sweet Home with the Little Sisters of the Poor officially, as a Resident, for over 24 years, but a significant part of my whole life from my youth. As far back as grade school at Most Blessed Sacrament, the biggest Catholic grade school in the whole world, I remember how the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters would bring a bunch of us volunteers to scrub the dining room floors on our knees, moving along hip-to-hip, rubbing away with SOS pads in our willing little hands. It was actually fun, and the Little Sisters would thank us with a treat!
Going to High School at West Catholic on the 13 Trolley, I would pass right in front of the Home. Eventually, I worked in town at Girard Bank to continue my twice daily glimpse at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home from the 13 Trolley.
That was until 1987. I was 41 years old and my mother passed away. She was bedridden and I was caregiver for her last seven years. At this point, I was surprised to get an inkling that the Lord might be calling me to consecrated life. I used to go to Old St. Joseph’s for Noon Mass on my lunch break.
One day, I asked the parish secretary if she knew of any religious who would accept me, having had a stroke and no longer young. Randomly, she opened the directory and the first name she came across was the Little Sisters of the Poor. I knew their convent well but never imagined myself joining them!
Well, join them I did, first as a live-in volunteer for three years then for just 6-months of initial formation in Palatine IL and Queens, NY. Because of my poor health, they counseled me to return to Chester Ave and serve as a Lay Associate in the Fraternity Jeanne Jugan. Mary Frances and I had adjoining rooms and shared a little dining room, as well as the joy of being a vital part of the extended family of Holy Family Home.
I have lively memories of back then, like being happy to take the Residents for a walk on the grounds but struggling to get in or out. That was before there were automatic doors. I would have to manipulate the wheelchair into the space between the two front doors, trying to hold one open while the other was bumping my bottom! Besides that, with my experience of working in a bank, I was able to lend a hand with time sheets for the payroll. Dressing up for activities was, and still is, my forte. So many cheery souvenirs of my more active years!
By 1997, following a series of serious surgeries, I moved onto the Personal Care Unit as a “Resident.” A few years later, my Dad moved into an apartment and delighted everyone with his pleasant personality and carpentry skills. It was a blessing to share this happy home and so many friends here until he died in 2006.
Now, I’ve achieved the title of “Longest Lasting Resident” here and I continue to be grateful to God for still being ambulatory and able to participate in Daily Mass and the other spiritual opportunities, to appreciate table fellowship in our little Dining Room on the Personal Care Unit, to revel in being challenged by puzzles in the library, to follow current events on TV, to do my own laundry, to have the security of medical care, and to bless the Lord for the Little Sisters, their Co-workers and their benefactors who animate and sustain my “home-sweet-home,” Holy Family Home!
I, Yirandy De la Cruz, was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in New York, and currently residing in Philadelphia for the past two years. Before settling in, I first wanted to be employed. I saw a job opening as a front desk receptionist at the Little Sisters of the Poor and jumped on it.
As a little girl, I have always been fond of the elderly. I loved being around them and talking to them. I always felt there was so much to learn from them and somehow, they always gravitated towards me as well. Growing up I've always wanted to work at a nursing home or in any setting with the elderly for that matter. I even wanted to own a nursing home at some point, "Kidult Nursing". Getting a job at the Little Sisters of the Poor was a dream come true.
The two years I have been here have been a true joy. I've met really hard-working and dedicated individuals. It's really heartwarming to see how loving and caring the sisters are towards the Residents. They take it upon themselves to ensure that all their needs and desires are met. The quiet and peaceful environment of the facility makes it very welcoming, even for toddlers! My 2-year-old twins loved the place when they came for the New Year’s Eve party. The mentoring from the sisters and Residents to both myself and my girls was far beyond my expectations.
The tender, loving care from the sisters to the Residents and staff makes this place a home. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to fulfill my dreams.