Chelsea Gives Puerto Rico Hurricane Survivor a Fresh Start

(Toms River, NJ)– Kim Sugranes did her share of searching for gasoline and waiting in line for groceries after Hurricane Maria hit her home town of Caguas, a suburb of San Juan, last September. But in the days afterwards, she experienced something remarkable.

“People were sort of obliged to come out of their homes,” she recalled. “And that was one of the best things that ever happened, we reconnected to everything around us, including the neighbors.”

That kind of optimism is a welcome quality in the world of senior care, where patience, a smile and a great attitude go a long way, all of which helped forge Sugranes’ path to her new life in New Jersey as a care aide at The Chelsea at Toms River assisted living residence.

At the urging of Chelsea Senior Living CEO Herb Heflich, the company embarked on a mission to recruit people left jobless by the Puerto Rican disaster, not only to employ them but train them, pay their way to the mainland, give them a place to live and a little starter cash. The only caveats were they had to speak English and commit to working for Chelsea for at least a year. Recruitment was done through newspapers in New Jersey and Puerto Rico and through the distribution of flyers on the island.

“We did get responses,” said Tom Kranz, Chelsea Director of Communications, “but most didn’t speak English. Others didn’t respond to call-backs or return emails, either because they couldn’t due to infrastructure failures on the island or for other reasons we’ll never really know. Kim is our first new employee through this program.”

“I used to do online projects, tutoring and translation,” said Sugranes. “But because of the hurricane, I lost my cable and internet. I was not doing anything. I felt like I was wasting my time waiting for something to happen. Just by coincidence, I happened to open the newspaper one day and there was the ad. I called the next day. My sister pushed me. She said the world is your oyster. Go ahead.”

The opportunity came at just the right time. Things had gotten better in Caguas. Her elderly parents had a generator and Sugranes’ two brothers and two sisters were there to take care of them.

Meanwhile at The Chelsea, the project hit a sweet spot for LPN Laura MacDonald, who saw it as an incredible opportunity.

“How do we make this happen?” she asked, and became heavily involved in digging deeper for applicants, taking an interest in one in particular, Quimet Sugranes, who goes by the name Kim.

Laura MacDonald, Kim Sugranes and Craig Sydor in Kim’s new apartment

“Laura was 100% all over it,” said Craig Sydor, Executive Director of the Chelsea at Toms River, who drove to Newark Airport on January 3rd to pick up Sugranes, then brought her to the Chelsea, her new home and work place. Sydor joined MacDonald and other team members in purchasing furniture and amenities for Sugranes’ apartment at The Chelsea, along with a welcome basket of toiletries.

Now, Sugranes is back doing what she has enjoyed most in life, helping elderly people. In Puerto Rico she was inspired by her grandmother, whom she helped take care of before traveling to London to live with her then-husband.

“In England my ex-mother in law, who was a nurse, gave me the opportunity to work in a nursing home. I loved those people. I always told my sister, I was born to help people. The most important thing is that the team members are on the same wavelength.”

Her team at the Chelsea will be led by Health Services Director Linda Cioppa and her assistant, Laura MacDonald, who has already become a mentor and guide.

“When I saw this opportunity, I thought this is too good to be true,” said Sugranes. “My sister said don’t be silly, just give it a go, you never know.”

“I’m not sure who is more excited,” said Executive Director Sydor. “Kim to be here or us to have her!”

 

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