ENCINITAS — As a mother of six grown children, Janet Mansi was used to having a lot on her plate. Running a large household, she learned to balance busy days, never-ending chores and very little time to herself.
Through the years, her role evolved from mother, to grandmother and eventually to caretaker for her husband Leon, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. It is a role she has embraced, as she and her husband are still very much in love. What was harder to accept was the fact that she needed a helping hand.
It’s a story Kathryn Johnston knows well. As a certified senior advisor with Seniors Helping Seniors’ San Diego North County, she often encounters seniors who are in need of help, but don’t want to ask for it. Her goal is to find exactly the right person who can offer support and care so that a senior is able to remain independent in his or her home.
Johnston hires senior caregivers to go in and take care of transportation, light housekeeping, meal preparation, companion care, personal care, handyman services, shopping, overnight stays and more. “We are here for all of the needs a senior might have,” Johnston said.
When Janet Mansi finally realized it was time to get some help, she contacted Seniors Helping Seniors. Johnston introduced her to Fran Vitek, who has become much more than a caregiver to the Mansis. “She runs a few errands, and keeps the place cleaned up,” Janet Mansi said. “She also spends time with us, talking with us about our daily lives. She is very encouraging and very helpful.”
The Mansis agree that Vitek has had a very positive impact on their lives. “She relieves a lot of stress from my life,” Janet Mansi said. “She is always on time and she takes care of all of our problems.”
For Vitek, the relationship has become an important one. “We have a very warm relationship,” she said. “We share stories back and forth. It’s just heartwarming.” Vitek finds reward in being able to give Janet Mansi time for herself. “We have our girl-time, and then she goes out for a few hours and gets her hair or nails done and runs errands,” Vitek said. “She is pretty much the around-the-clock caregiver so I feel my presence gives her some peace of mind when she needs to leave the house.”
Vitek says she feels “honored” that the Mansis have let her into their lives and says she is touched by the love and devotion they have for each other. “Mr. Mansi served our country his entire adult life,” she said. “But he will tell you that Mrs. Mansi is his hero. He says, ‘She raised the six kids while I was away fighting in the war.’”
Herb Nadler also helps the family, offering plenty of jokes and some much-needed “guy time” to Leon Mansi. A former Meals On Wheels volunteer, Nadler enjoys his work with Seniors Helping Seniors because he gets to spend more quality time with seniors and get really involved.
Nadler and Leon Mansi clicked immediately and now have weekly four-hour adventures that they look forward to equally. “He drives me around and we’re good friends,” Leon Mansi said. “He’s faithful and friendly. He’s a good guy and I like him.”
While the two enjoy mixing up their weekly routine, one thing is always true. They will be laughing. “You’ve got to know Herb to appreciate him. My life has changed for the better since he came into it. He helps everybody and he laughs at everything.”
“He really took to me,” Nadler said. “I like to kid around, and I crack a lot of jokes. I feel like my job is to make him happy.”
Leon Mansi is usually in a wheelchair, so Nadler makes a point to try to get him to use his walker once in a while to keep his legs strong. “We pick a spot and have a nice lunch together.” Though you won’t catch Leon Mansi talking about it, he is a retired Navy lieutenant who earned several medals during his tours in the South Pacific in World War II and in Vietnam. Nadler thought given his background, Leon Mansi would enjoy the ocean. “We visit Oceanside Harbor a lot. He’s a people watcher. We watch surfers and lately the seals. They jump up on the dock, and he said that in all his years he’s never seen a sight like that. He really gets a kick out of it.”
The Mansis, Vitek and Nadler have become a sort of extended family. “We’re their people,” Vitek said of herself and Nadler.
For more information about using Seniors Helping Seniors, or to find out about caregiving opportunities, visit shssandiego.com, call (760) 591-7474 or email info@SHSsandiego.com.