Meet the new intern Ella Neumann!

Have you met Ella? She is our new German Intern who just arrived at the end of September. Ella is 18 and is from Nurtingen, Germany, near Stuttgart. She likes to play the saxophone, and enjoys bike riding. She also enjoys singing and has already joined a local choir. In the few weeks that she has been here, she already feels very welcome. She loves the programs is impressed by the political discussions (she didn’t expect that) and is enjoying teaching morning exercise. Ella is especially happy to follow and attend the Jewish traditions at Selfhelp, “I have only learned about them in school,” she expressed , “it’s so different when you see it in real life,” said Ella. We look forward to getting to know her. Ella will be with us until next August, be sure to welcome her as you see her around the house!

For the past 20 years, The Selfhelp Home is a host to a student intern from Germany, a program with Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP).

Two Organizations Seeing Eye to Eye on a Mission to Help Refugees  

Contributed by Beth Gomberg-Hirsch

The mission of The Selfhelp Home dates back to the 1930’s where a community within a community helped those fleeing Nazi Germany find a safe place to live and flourish in a new country, with a new language, supported by people who understood their past. As refugees, they established the Selfhelp Home to provide care and compassion for their fellow Holocaust survivors. While that original population is now dwindling, the core commitment to helping the stranger continues. Through the guidance and mentoring of Sophie Metovic, the dietary manager, the Selfhelp Home has partnered with RefugeeOne, an independent non-for-profit organization founded in 1982 that provides assistance to refugees resettled in the Chicago area. In needing to become an independent, self-supporting member of a new community as quickly as possible, employment is key, so in July 2016, the partnership between the Selfhelp Home and RefugeeOne began.

Ms. Metovic currently employs four people referenced to her from RefugeeOne. These individuals are so grateful for employment, that they see the dignity in jobs that others might not, and are hard workers trying to do their best, even with severe language barriers. Ms. Metovic tries to match their skills with the tasks she has available ranging from dishwashing, waiting on tables, baking and other miscellaneous jobs. Language is a continual challenge, but non-verbal body language speaks volumes. Some of the languages spoken are French, Portuguese, Swahili, Kinyindu, Kituba, Kikongo, Lingala and Tigrjnya.

Here are some of the brief biographies of the people: 

Adim Tekia, from Eritrea and Ethiopia, has a husband in Israel who is an engineer. She has a ten-year-old son who comes to the Selfhelp Home everyday after school and quietly sits in a corner and does his homework while his mother works. She helps in the kitchen and wants to get her paperwork in order so that someday she can be reunited with her husband. She is working to pay her rent and feels lucky to have a job where she can begin to learn English and feel supported and safe. She has been here for 10 months.

Tishibola Kalala is here from the Congo with her husband and two children. She is now pregnant with her third child and works as a waitress in the dining room. This is her first job, and in her limited English, with a big smile, she says, “everyone here is very nice.” She has been in Chicago for seven months.

Wakilongo Kahugusi from the Congo was a nurse in his country, and would someday like to be licensed here as he learns more English. He has three children- a daughter who is 14, and two sons, 13 and five. Wakilongo has been here six months and takes his job very seriously. He dresses very professionally, and is very hard working, always trying to please. He serves coffee to residents and does dishwashing.

Lalia Mweniake is here from Africa and lived in the Congo. She has worked at Selfhelp for 1 year. She has a husband that lives in the Congo and a 6 month old baby named Peter. Lalia lives with her sister Mapenzi, who also worked at the Selfhelp home and recently had a baby. The sisters give each other support. Lalia works in our Dietary department as a waitress in the dining room. In the Congo she studied Social Work and says the best part about her job is that she gets to help people and enjoys being a part of Selfhelp.

Ms. Metovic reports that as immigrants, like the people that inhabited the Selfhelp Home originally, there is gratefulness in being here, and a connection is made with the residents as if a special bond exists. There is a cultural connection of being the “other” and finding yourself in a secure space. Selfhelp has become a safe haven providing a mixture of love and caring while trying to teach the American way. Wakilongo described working in the kitchen to working in a hospital. , Ms. Metovic blanched, thinking he was referring to Selfhelp as being cold and institutional. “No, No, ” he said.” It is because it is so clean, and we have to wash our hands so many times in the kitchen.”

It is the goal of this partnership to help new refugees integrate into this country-to to become what they ultimately want to be. It is a challenge to recognize the dignity of all work as a step to citizenship. These four individuals realize they are lucky to have been given opportunity, and want to provide the residents of Selfhelp the care and assistance they deserve. It supports the initial mission of the Home to be able to go back to the Home’s roots, and support the stranger among us.

You can learn more about RefugeeOne and our partnership in the featured video.

Selfhelp Staffers Making a Difference: Meet Kim Dudasik

Contributed by Beth Gomberg-Hirsch: [email protected]

Meet Kim Dudasik, Activity Team Member

Kim is the newest member of the activities team and has been a member of the Selfhelp family for the past 5 years. Kim works  for the Rehabilitation floor, and the Long Term Care Floors at Selfhelp.  She was encouraged to apply for the job by a friend who was related to Nerma Lamier, Director of Nursing.  Kim grew up helping handicapped relatives, loved to babysit, and used to volunteer in an institution with mentally handicapped adults.

Kim feels obligated to fill her daily eight hour shift effectively and efficiently, and considers a day well spent if all the residents are satisfied and safe.  Every day is a new adventure and every day creates a new memory for her.  Kim is grateful to be part of a well working team and feels very supported.  She loves working at a place where she can show her goofy and “corny” side and be silly to make people laugh.

Her goal is to make people smile.  Kim loves to sing and dance, and it’s a pleasure to watch her during musical experiences where she really comes to life. She treats the residents as if they were her own grandparents by freely giving them hugs and kisses and joking with them comfortably. She says it is her goal to make the residents feel secure and happy at the Home, and to insure that Selfhelp feels like it is indeed their home. She wants everyone to know that it is okay to live at Selfhelp and that people care about you there, and will love you like they love their own grandparent. She wants everyone’s stay at Selfhelp to be enjoyable as she tries to infect residents with her great attitude.

Kim has learned how to deal with death, and has accepted that as part of the job, although she says it’s a tough lesson to learn.  Kim loves to bake, and to travel.  She loves a good adventure and will try anything once.  She even loves to cliff dive.  She describes herself as a bit of a daredevil and likes to push herself to overcome fear.

Kim views life at Selfhelp as a place to create a memory for each day, and that “each day is a new journey.”  We are so lucky to be the object of Kim’s enthusiasm.

A series of stories by Beth Gomberg-Hirsch, contributing writer.

Beth Gomberg Hirsch spends a lot of time visiting her mom, Helene, a resident of The Selfhelp Home. Behind-the-scenes, Beth sees the great work of the staff, some of whom may not be as visible to the public but make a tremendous difference in the lives of the residents.  They are, Beth says, “the special sauce” that makes Selfhelp unique.

“Ever Since I Was 6 Years Old I Wanted to Visit The USA.” Meet Pascal Kraft, Selfhelp’s Newest German Intern.

Contributed by Jeryl [email protected]

Chicago is one of the most fantastic, biggest cities I’ve ever seen,” exclaims Pascal Kraft, who came to The Selfhelp Home from the small southwestern German city of Rastatt to begin his internship as part of the longstanding relationship Selfhelp enjoys with the Berlin-based Action Service Reconciliation for Peace (ASRP). Rastatt, population 47,000, sits on the outskirts of the Black Forest. People in Rastatt are “a lot more formal,” says Pascal. “They would never ask a stranger or near stranger ‘How are you doing?’ “Here in Chicago people are a lot friendlier. I like the familiarity.”

Pascal is the first in his family to go to college. His mother is a housewife and his father a facility manager. Part French, his great-grandfather fought against Germany for France. His name, Pascal, literally translates into “Easter” and “Passover,” because the same Latin word Paschalis was used for both.

As is customary in Germany, Pascal is using his gap year between completing high school and beginning college to work in the United States. “I worked in a rehab clinic in Germany as part of my required social internship and wanted to work with older adults. One of the most important classes in gymnasium is Holocaust studies. “We visited Dachau and when the opportunity came up to intern at Selfhelp, I knew I wanted to work at a place that helped the survivors.” Pascal plans to study criminal law when he returns to Germany to begin college.

“Ever since I was six years old I wanted to go to the USA,” says Pascal, who will be touring the West Coast down Highway 1 after visiting the Grand Canyon on his break. Next year after completing his internship at Selfhelp, he plans to visit Israel.

Pascal has his own apartment at The Selfhelp Home, which he describes as “wonderful.” He pitches in wherever he is needed, but is particularly adept at computer work and preparing the Kindles for the residents. “Pascal has a great sense of humor and is very easygoing, says Fern Shaffer, Director of Programs, who supervises Pascal. “The residents love him.”

For the past 18 years The Selfhelp Home has maintained a partnership with ASRP.  Action Reconciliation for Peace is a German based volunteer organization that supports opportunities for international encounters and intercultural understanding.   Each year The Selfhelp Home houses a young German intern who is fully integrated into its community. 

Selfhelp Staffers Making a Difference: Meet Carmen Boss

Contributed by Beth Gomberg-Hirsch: [email protected]

 Meet Carmen Boss: A Close-Up with Carmen Boss,  Activity Director

If ever there was an energetic face of Selfhelp, it’s Carmen Boss. She exudes the positive “can- do” spirit that any institution would love to have. Carmen has been working at Selfhelp for 17 years.  Recruited by a friend from Sheridan Shores, Carmen has led activities for the 6th, 7th and 8th floor for 17 years.  She leads a dedicated, hardworking team, who all rely on each other to get the job done.

Carmen speaks in a loud and joyous voice with a slight hint of a Southern accent.  She says someone once commented to her that she is “as country as a truck of peaches.”  Carmen has lived in Chicago her whole life, has one son and two grandchildren.  She views all the residents of Selfhelp as her children and treats them as if they were family.

Carmen has a heart for people, no matter how difficult their situation. She strives to get the best out of all residents and wants them to respond at whatever level is practical or comfortable. She considers herself a staunch advocate of the residents and wants to provide maximum stimulation, sometimes even overriding family members who may feel their loved ones relatives are not as capable as Carmen feels they might be.  She wants everyone to know that she cares. Working at Selfhelp has been her calling.  Helping others comes easy to her, and she feels that by the grace of God, this is her calling.

Carmen’s greatest achievements at Selfhelp have been the Bell Choir she once ran and plays that she had the residents perform.  As many residents live in Selfhelp for long periods of time, it is important to provide appropriate and varied forms of stimulation for them.  She tries to get residents out on field trips, even if it means organizing a cadre of volunteers to push those who are mobility-challenged.  Carmen tries to meet residents on whatever level they are on, and is often surprised by the outcomes and capabilities of the residents in nursing care.

Carmen  loves that Selfhelp values culture, and appreciates the enriching experiences it provides for residents.  “This is not just a place to play Bingo,” she says.

Carmen Boss– a true asset to the Selfhelp Home.


A series of stories by Beth Gomberg-Hirsch, contributing writer.

Beth Gomberg Hirsch spends a lot of time visiting her mom, Helene, a resident of The Selfhelp Home. Behind-the-scenes, Beth sees the great work of the staff, some of whom may not be as visible to the public but make a tremendous difference in the lives of the residents.  They are, Beth says, “the special sauce” that makes Selfhelp unique. Activity Director Carmen Boss is the first profile in her series.

Staff Longevity Contributes to High Quality Care

As you walk into The Selfhelp Home, you’re greeted by a welcoming “hello” from Linda Peek, a 16- year employee. On other days, that friendly welcome comes from Marlene Younan, a 24-year employee.

In an industry that has a significantly high turnover rate of approximately 70 percent, in other words, two out of three nursing home or long term care workers leave their jobs in the course of a year.

The Selfhelp story is vastly different.

Selfhelp is home to 172 employees and 20% have 16 or more years of service. 21 employees have 20 or more years. For example, 27 years ago Sofia Metovic began as an entry-level dishwasher. Her excellent work ethic drove her to the top and she eventually became our Dietary Manager overseeing 40 employees and 700 meals per day.

Agnes Daniel, was only 16 years old when she started at Selfhelp as a server. Today- 38 years later, Agnes is the Assistant Dietary Manager and is the longest serving employee at the Selfhelp home!

In the kitchen, delicious homemade rugulach cookies are a specialty and we have Najeba Youmaran to thank for that. With 35 years of service, she recently retired and held the secret recipe near and dear to her heart. She is teaching Symone Mikell about making rugulach, amongst others. Symone is a 6-year employee and the daughter of Sharon Mikel, a 23-year employee with a vast wealth of knowledge. Sharon’s mother, Pearl Sullivan who also worked at Selfhelp Home for 8 years.

Ask Luba Levitsky what it’s like to work at Selfhelp for 33 years and she will tell you, “it seems like yesterday!” On Shabbat, you’ll find Luba in the dining room making sure every guest is happy. Over the years, Luba has also been in charge of housekeeping and laundry.

On Fridays, Bernice Jackson, delivers the Shabbat wine and challah for residents on the healthcare floors. Bernice has been with Selfhelp for 34 years. Other Dietary cooks include Martha Ruilova and Maria Tapia, both with 25 years and Graciela Sanchez with 21 years.

Having a great culture at Selfhelp is due to the staff loyalty and longevity of its employees. The longevity of the staff also helps to maintain a certain environment at Selfhelp and keeps it from changing too much. This consistency leads to better quality care and services, provided by people the residents have come to know and trust.

Fern Shaffer has worked at Selfhelp for 22 years, Fern coordinates over 100 live music concerts a year, making Selfhelp a venue for some of the most renowned local musicians plus many interesting lectures and programs

On the 8th floor, Director of Nursing, Nerma Gayosa-Lamier, has a total of 22 years. She’s responsible for keeping Selfhelp a top rated home year after year, and also sets the tone for the high quality of care delivered to our residents. Her nursing team includes long time employees, Carmelita Gan, 19 years, Joy Demegillo, 20 years, Sonia Armintia, 19 years and Pio Chuanico with18 years.

Certified Nurse Assistants play a key role in the lives of our residents. Claudette Blaise, or “Mrs.Blaise” has been with Selfhelp for 31 years, Voncile Flowers, 28 years, Florida Dela Torre, 26 years and Begum Lodi 21 years. Personal Aids also play important roles. Rose Leandovksy, has 36 years. Fe O Torres has been smiling and singing along with our residents for the past 23 years, and Kalsang Dekyi, with 22 years.

Just about every square foot of Selfhelp has Alfredo Reyes Gonzalez name on it, a 23 year employee. Alfredo worked his way up and is now Selfhelp’s top engineer, his work includes the recently renovated movie theater, sanctuary and media room and the beautiful warm wood in the social hall and 8th floor and countless other repair projects we can’t see.

These dedicated and committed individuals are at the core of what we do at Selfhelp and as a result, the culture and mission of Selfhelp live on and evolve to meet the needs of the residents we know so well. This is what makes Selfhelp a truly unique and vital community.