A Way to Show Thanks For Thanksgiving

In September, the Washington Post published an article that I saved to include in my Thanksgiving blog. It was about residents at a long-term care facility in Northern Virginia – the Goodwin House. As the article mentions, one of every four workers in long-term care facilities are immigrants. Immigrants make up about 17% of the entire medical workforce in the U.S. More are needed as we continue to deal with the pandemic and our health care workforce is stretched and strained. 

One of the residents of the Goodwin House pointed out that when the garbage disposal snarls, the internet quits and when the lights fade and flicker, Augustine Taylor is there to help. Augustine is from Sierra Leone. Others who work there are from Cameroon, Haiti, and Jamacia. 

The residents decided to “do something extraordinary for the migrants who take such good care of them, who treat their senior status with an honor and value that our youth-worshipping, throwaway culture too often neglects.” What they did was to lead an effort to assist almost ninety employees to become U.S. citizens. The filing fee for naturalization is now $ 725 which is an enormous amount for those working for the low wages that these helpers are paid. The residents raise $ 40,000 in two weeks to assist with the filing fees. 

In addition to assisting with the costs of applying for naturalization, the residents volunteered to tutor the health aides, housekeepers, and cooks. They worked with them on spelling so they could pass the English language test and tutored them on constitutional amendments, the writers of the Federalist Papers, and other questions that many who were born in the U.S. would flunk. If you want to see the questions that that immigrants must study, please click here.

The head of the Goodwin House Foundation is trying to promote the program to other retirement communities. The Washington Post article quoted one resident who counseled people in Thailand, Germany, and Russia during her lengthy career as a social worker. She explained the rapport between the seemingly disparate groups of people. “The immigrants want to be in a place where they are valued. And in a nation where families can be separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, where the elderly are often warehoused and forgotten, the senior citizens are looking for the same thing – to be valued. Many of them come from cultures where seniors are more revered than they are here. It’s mutually beneficial” 

For the last two years of her life, my mother was cared for by wonderfully patient caregivers who were mostly from Jamaica. Some of her doctors and nurses were also immigrants. During the time my mother needed full-time care, I was working and raising three young children so very much needed their assistance in caring for my mother. So, this Thanksgiving let us give thanks to the immigrants who help care for our parents and grandparents.

Linda M Kaplan