Spend any time with Vanessa Caraballo at Good Samaritan Society – Kissimmee Village in Florida and you’ll quickly realize, she’s a character.
“How would I describe Vanessa? Vanessa is very outgoing,” colleague and Society fitness supervisor Chris Kazen says.
Watch the 59-year-old Bronx native a bit more and you’ll discover she’s also a person full of character.
"She is a phenomenal personality that makes everybody feel welcome and I don’t know how she does it,” resident Jeanette Ferdig says.
Not surprisingly, Vanessa has a lot of friends. Many of which are residents on campus.
“I would say the first thing is genuine. She really, genuinely cares. You don’t feel like she’s paying attention to you just because it’s her job to do so,” resident Claire Marotte says.
'We love what we do'
An activities assistant at the Society, Vanessa keeps herself and everyone else busy at the “heart of the village,” the community center.
“We’re here because we love what we do and we’re here for the people,” Vanessa says. “We just have a lot to offer, and the grounds are beautiful. If you don’t have anything else, sit on the bench and listen to nature and the love of God he has given to us every day."
Claire moved into an apartment here during the pandemic.
“Here, you know, you laugh. During COVID, you really needed that,” Claire says when talking about interacting with Vanessa and staff.
Jeanette Ferdig says when she arrived, Vanessa was the first person to make her feel at home.
“I absolutely adore what she brings to this community,” Jeanette says. “She knows how to make you feel important and at this stage in your life, you’re probably not as important as you think you are. In Vanessa’s eyes, everybody has a purpose."
Guardian Angel program
To show appreciation for Vanessa's efforts, Jeanette and Claire are donating to the Good Samaritan Foundation’s Guardian Angel program in her honor.
“Residents trust her. Residents just have this special bond with her which is amazing,” Chris says.
Vanessa has received 11 Guardian Angel nominations, the most of any employee at the Society. The nomination comes with a special pin, a certificate and a note from the resident or family.
“It’s amazing to hear the words specifically that come from the residents,” Chris says about the nominations. He’s received a few himself.100 percent of every gift supports the Society’s work at that specific location – important work that means a lot to the community.
“Here, we’re not just 'activities assistant.' We are therapists. We are not doctors because we can’t diagnose anyone. We’re everything. It’s just a melting pot of a position where you have to have the time for (residents),” Vanessa says.
'Great day to be alive'
Vanessa always seems to find the time.
“My door is always open. Like I said I’m going to ugly cry," Vanessa says. "A lot (of residents) are up in age. Even if they repeat the same things over and over, just listen and act like you’ve heard it for the first time."
Empathy for others, no matter the situation, and energy for those staying active and finding purpose.
“Today is a great day to be alive because every day is a gift. If you’re here despite the hardship, it’s a great day to be alive. Come here and see me and I’m going to make sure that I make you feel like today is a great day to be alive,” Vanessa says.
Nominate a Guardian Angel
Anyone can celebrate a Good Samaritan Society staff member or volunteer as a Guardian Angel by making a gift in their honor. You can fill out the form and donate online.
The program launched in January. To date, 183 employees have been recognized as Guardian Angels at 20 Society locations around the country.
Staff members or volunteers being honored receive a white Guardian Angel pin after the initial nomination. When they hit 25 nominations, they receive a pewter pin. 75 nominations brings with it a gold Guardian Angel pin.
Residents at Good Samaritan Society - Kissimmee Village have been the most active users of the program so far with Good Samaritan Society - Moscow Village in Idaho coming in second.
Sanford Health requires masking in its locations. Anyone shown without a mask was recorded prior to the current masking policy in nonpatient care areas.