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Local caregiver receives honor

ABOVE: Judy Wolner with her Caregiver of the Year award. Wolner, a community care coordinator at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, was chosen out of 60,000 caregivers in Minnesota.

FAIRMONT– Judy Wolner, a community care coordinator at Vista Prairie at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont, was just named LeadingAge Minnesota’s Caregiver of the Year. Wolner was selected out of a pool of 60,000 professional caregivers in LeadingAge Minnesota’s membership.

Wolner has been working at Goldfinch Estates since 2004. Originally from Tanzania, she took the job after moving into a neighborhood near the facility. While the fact that she lived close to work was an initial drawing point, Wolner quickly found that she loved the work– and the people.

She started as a care provider, and over her 20 years with Goldfinch, she’s mostly worked on the memory care side of the facility, caring for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Wolner acknowledges that her job presents challenges, but also blessings.

“They’re individuals and yes, they have dementia, but their diagnosis are different and their temperaments are different. They are who they were before they came here, it’s just tapping into who they are now and who they’re becoming,” Wolner said.

In caring for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, Wolner said they strive to keep a consistent schedule on a daily basis and keep the environment homey.

“It makes it easier for them and their families and more comforting for them. Some residents have been here for over 10 years,” Wolner said.

While that’s the case from time to time, Wolner said some residents are only with them for a short time and of course most of those she has worked with have passed on.

Speaking of the residents leaving, she said, “it’s different with each one of them. They leave a mark somewhere.”

She estimates she has to have worked with over 100 different residents over her time with Goldfinch Estates and she remembers nearly all of them.

“I think the negative thing is seeing how residents or their families struggle to come to terms with the people they’re becoming,” Wolner said.

On the flip side, said she gets to see many different personalities and she learns from the residents.

“I’ve learned to be more patient and I’ve made friends with them,” Wolner said.

As a community care coordinator, Wolner works with both residents and their families, but she still does the same work as residents assistants (RA) because she thinks it’s important to be able to communicate first-hand with families what their loved ones need.

On receiving the award, Wolner said she was completely unaware of it or that she had even been nominated.

“I was on the floor (working) and I was called into the nurse’s office, and I thought there was an emergency. I walked in and most of the staff and leadership were in there and they said, ‘you won,’ and I said, ‘I won what?’ Wolner recalled with a laugh.

She was filled in on the award but said the whole meaning of it didn’t hit until she and a few of Goldfinch’s leadership team members went to the LeadingAge Minnesota Institute and Expo in St. Paul on Feb. 7. More than 3,000 people were in attendance at the conference.

“I didn’t realize it was that big of a deal until I was told it was the highest recognition in Minnesota,” Wolner said.

While she’s proud to have received the award, she’s reluctant to accept it for just herself.

“I don’t feel like it’s just for me– it recognizes Goldfinch and our team. It shows that the people are dedicated out here. They spend so much time taking care of the residents that we have and I think sometimes people don’t realize how important that (the work) is,” Wolner said.

Brody Bents, sales and community marketing manager at Goldfinch Estates, said, “I think everyone is here because they care about the residents and you can just tell that Judy has such a love for the job and does it well.”

As Caregiver of the Year, Wolner chimed in on what she thinks makes a good caregiver.

“You need to have a heart for it. It’s not just a job. You have to want to care for people and have empathy and a lot of patience. You have to be the right person to do it,” she said.

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