Over 135 people buzzed around the lobby of the South Sound Manor with excitement as hugs were exchanged, congratulations were wished, and eager bidders hovered over the silent auction items at the 19th Annual Senior Action Network (SAN) Caregiver Recognition Dinner. This annual event was held to honor and recognize caregivers who were nominated by families and clients they serve throughout the Thurston, Mason and Lewis County areas. There were over 62 nominations received this year and all of the nominated caregivers were invited to attend the dinner held in their honor. The top 20 caregivers, as voted on by the SAN Caregiver Dinner planning committee, were recognized and awarded with the “Outstanding Caregiver of the Year” designation at the festivities.  

AHC Taylor Kerr Winner
Taylor Kerr, CNA, grew up in Olympia. Her award reflects the extra care she gives her care recipients. Photo courtesy: AHC

It was an evening filled with tears, laughter and much deserved appreciation for all of the caregivers who were nominated. Their stories were shared aloud and awards handed out, all while being cheered on by co-workers, family, friends, clients, employers and other professionals in the senior care community. Locally owned Advanced Health Care had six of their in-home caregivers nominated by the clients and families they directly serve. Two received top honors at the event, Ashley Gaston and Taylor Kerr.

Both Ashley and Taylor plan on continuing their education while working to become nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Ashley hopes to stay local and attend Saint Martin’s University, while Taylor is considering Concordia University in Portland.  “I wanted to be a nurse,” shares Ashley. She had worked various office and fast food jobs previously, but found that seeing her in-home care clients reminded her of seeing her own grandparents. “I enjoy helping people,” she adds.

AHC Ashley Gaston
Ashley Gaston now calls Olympia home and is moving forward with her nursing goals. Photo courtesy: AHC

She and her husband, whom she met in high school, moved to Olympia with his job in the military. “We love it here in Washington,” she says. Ashley is in school full-time at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) and expects to get her AA at the end of this calendar year. Advanced Health Care understands the crazy, changing schedule of students and works to accommodate them. “You don’t have to be stressed out about work,” says Ashley. She is grateful for the award. “It’s a big honor,” she smiles.

Taylor is also attending SPSCC to get her AA in pre-nursing. Taylor had initial trepidation about knocking on a stranger’s door, entering, and getting to know the person who needed care, but she worked through it. “I like genuine relationships with people,” she says, and her attention to detail and sincerity has made a significant difference to the families she helps. The couple who nominated Taylor had this to say, “Taylor is quick to anticipate and do all the little (and big) things that make life easier for me.” Taylor was surprised to be an honoree and pleased to be on her way to a career that is filled with exciting options.

Lynessa Stone Peter Adams
The SAN recognition dinner was co-chaired by Lynessa Stone, AHC, and Peter Adams acted as emcee and auctioneer. Photo courtesy: AHC

Among the award recipients that evening was Laura Vaillancourt, owner of Elder Care Counseling and Guidance here in Olympia. She received the Dennis Mahar Community Caregiver of the Year Award for her amazing, professional work serving seniors and their families throughout Thurston County. Other winners included several family caregivers, a volunteer caregiver, paid in-home caregivers, facility caregivers and one adult family home winner. “This is my favorite event of the year,” said Lynessa Stone, co-chair of the event.  “Not only does it highlight the wonderful stories of so many selfless caregivers out in our community, but it also gives a face to some of the seniors and families who rely on these services. This event gives them a stage to show appreciation and thanks for the care that they receive. It’s really heartwarming to see the special connection between the caregivers and their client(s) or care recipients.”

AHC Recognition dinner
The banquet was a festive evening for appreciative care recipients and the care providers. Photo courtesy: Mary Ellen Psaltis

If you or a family member need care, visit the Advanced Heath Care website or call 1-800-690-3330. Advanced Health Care also interviews for people looking to be part of their caregiving team.

The Senior Action Network was founded in 1999, by local senior service providers to network for improved service for seniors. Including Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties, Senior Action Network puts on events, programs and offers resources to members and the community.