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Meet Our National CAREGiver of the Year

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Rick Folkerson’s commitment to seniors began in childhood when he enjoyed the company of his grandmothers and later became a caregiver to them.

Since retiring more than a year ago from the animal resources center at the University of Saskatchewan, Rick has gone back to his roots, once again caring for older adults.

Employed by the franchise office in Saskatoon, SK, owned by Karen and Greg Charyna, Rick – the Home Instead Senior Care® network’s 2014 CAREGiverSM of the Year – embodies joy, humility, compassion and care. “This gentle giant has not only gracefully and masterfully enhanced the lives of his clients, he has helped to transform their aging experience,” his franchise staff says.

True to his nickname of “transformer,” Rick is continually adapting to the needs of his clients and developing creative solutions for their issues.

“Rick’s capacity to believe that every person he meets is waiting to be heard, to be known and to be engaged is immense,” said Karen Charyna. “He has faith in people regardless of their place in life and can magically make connections. To see the hope rise up in the people he connects with is beautiful. In the last years of their life, instead of fear and despair, Rick gives hope a chance to grow.”

Rick, 61, had an early education in caregiving. When his father – a high school teacher – was off work two months in the summers, Rick and his family would travel to Saskatoon to spend it with his grandmothers. It was here that his passion for serving seniors started to grow.

After high school Rick returned to Saskatoon to live with his maternal grandmother while he attended college. “She was such a wonderful lady, always up and cooking me breakfast before I went to class,” Rick recalls. “She had a little car and I would drive her to get groceries.”
At that same time, Rick’s paternal grandmother was afflicted with glaucoma and was struggling by herself, so Rick would do jobs around her house and yard, spending more time with her as the disease progressed. This care continued after he graduated and married.

After earning a biology degree and spending 35 years working at the university, Rick decided it was time to retire. “But what was I to do?” he remembers thinking. “I feel great and I’m really healthy.”  He wanted to do something that was positive and would help others – he wanted to make a difference. Rick saw a classified ad for Home Instead Senior Care. “This is such important work. I have such a respect for seniors. So many of the benefits we enjoy in Canada were secured by seniors in World Wars I and II,” Rick says. “I don’t take that lightly. I think it’s important that all be treated with dignity and respect.”

In endorsing Rick’s nomination, the son of one client writes: “Rick was a true blessing to us and came into our lives and greatly assisted our dad in being able to stay at home until the very end and to die with dignity.”

Rick’s creatively knows no bounds. For example, when a client, Brian, had a stroke that left an arm paralyzed, Rick adapted a junior golf club that Brian could use on a par 3 golf course. “I asked Home Instead if I could take Brian to the driving range,” says Rick, who has varied sports interests as well including golfing, fishing and curling. “I would tee the ball up for him and he would blast away. From there we moved to the golf course and he was doing something he enjoyed.”

Another client – Johnny – wouldn’t shave or bathe. He didn’t like his razor so Rick suggested one like he owns. “He liked my suggestion so much I asked his son to buy him one just like it,” Rick says.  And he finally got Johnny to shower. “I would tell him when we went to visit his wife in the hospital, you’re going to be seeing your wife. They’re not going to let you in if you don’t shower!”

One younger client in a care community was sullen and withdrawn. Rick read his profile several times to see where they could connect. “I noticed he liked cars and he also really enjoyed food, a man after my own heart,” Rick explains. “When I met him for the first time he was in bed with his blankets pulled up. Over the course of the first afternoon I got him talking about cars, then I asked him if he would like to go for coffee and a donut, which he did. Then I got him to play Yahztee. After we played for an hour he started to smile. We went into the cafeteria and before long there were three or four others watching. I asked if he minded if others joined in. By the end of the day we had him enjoying Yahtzee with the other residents. I’ve now got him doing jigsaw puzzles even though he is low functioning.”

In describing the help a Home Instead CAREGiver can bring to families Rick, who has three young adult children with his wife, Beverley, says: “I think families feel overwhelmed. It can be fatigue or sadness or they are confused about what’s best. I think a Home Instead CAREGiver can bring in stability and give the family relief and the ability to step back and get needed rest and refreshment. We also bring a sense of assurance that we can make things better for their loved ones.”

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