When Yolande Desroches came to New Jersey 20 years ago, she and her husband didn’t have a job, didn’t speak English, and didn’t have a plan.
In April, she celebrated her 20th anniversary at The Chelsea at Tinton Falls, an Assisted Living and Memory Care community in Monmouth County, and for the last 12 years she’s been the Lead Certified Medication Aide.
“This was my first job in America,” she said.
Despite revisiting a stressful and challenging time in her life, she retells her story with her signature laugh and smile.
Originally from southern Haiti, a country in the Caribbean that shares an island with the Dominican Republic, Desroches, her husband and their two girls left because of political turmoil.
Desroches and her husband had successful careers. She worked for the government managing business licenses. Her husband was a lawyer. Both have college degrees.
“It was very, very hard because I had my job for 10 years. I worked for the government for 10 years,” Desroches said. “To leave your job and come here not knowing what you’re going to do is very hard.”
But they feared for their lives while in Haiti. They took their five-year-old and three-year-old daughters and left in early 2001 to start all over in the United States.
They had aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters already living here. Her husband’s aunt used to work for an Assisted Living community that eventually became The Chelsea at Tinton Falls, and that’s how Desroches got her first job doing housekeeping.
“I barely spoke English. I just worked all day,” she said.
For a while she was doing the residents’ laundry full-time until one day she was approached to consider a career in nursing. It required taking a Certified Home Health Aide (CHHA) class.
She doubted herself at first because of the language barrier. Her husband, though, wouldn’t let her give up that easily.
“I said you just have to help me do this,” she told her husband. “So, we used to study together. I remember when I went for the class I asked, ‘can my husband take this test, too?’ Because he studied everything I studied. We studied together. And I passed my test.”
Soon enough, her hard work as an aide was recognized and she was promoted to Lead CMA.
“If you want to do it you have to put yourself on it and do it,” she said.
“She cares for the residents as if they’re her own family,” said Craig Sydor, the Executive Director at The Chelsea at Tinton Falls. “She’s caring, she’s loving and really spends the time with them. It’s more of a labor of love with her where she’ll sit and play a game with the residents, or just sit and chat and have a conversation or a cup of tea with them.”
The team and the residents at Tinton Falls surprised Desroches with a party, a couple of days before her actual anniversary. That smile and laugh of hers was centerstage.
“What make me so happy was that every single resident loved this. They loved this,” she said. “They came to me and said Yolande you deserve it. One of them told me ‘oh, it’s good to live in a place where you know somebody here for 20 years. That makes me feel secure.’”
“I love this place so much. I love the residents here. I love the staff and I think I get along with people very well.”