Meet Jean: Bridging the Last Mile of Care

From support meetings and gym visits to podiatrist appointments and colonoscopies, Papa Pal Jean makes sure members can access the resources and care they need.

In-person help from a trusted individual is often the push people need to follow through on recommendations or participate in activities that help them get and stay well. Papa Pal Jean is a consistent presence in her members’ lives, helping improve their health and wellbeing by supporting them through the last mile of care.

How Jean found Papa

Three years ago, Jean’s brother passed away suddenly—on the same day he put in for his retirement. He was just 62 years old. Jean was 57 at the time and decided she didn’t want to spend another day working. Her brother left some money and his house in Rhode Island to her, so she retired early and moved from Massachusetts to her new home. 

“Everything was great for the first year,” she says. She slept in, took baths at noon, and enjoyed a stress-free life. “But, after two years, I got bored.”

Jean travels often to see family and friends out of state, so she didn’t want a job where she’d need to request time off every time she wanted to take a trip. When she came across an ad for Papa, she knew immediately: “This is the perfect job for me.” While Jean says she’s found her niche at Papa, she also says it’s nice that she can supplement her income so she can treat herself to a nice meal and get her nails done when she pleases, without taking much out of her retirement fund.

One year later, Jean has formed relationships with several members whom she sees regularly, and works a solid 20 hours each week. It’s the perfect amount for her. She loves getting out of the house, meeting new people, and driving her members around town. She has even referred several friends and family members to sign up as Papa Pals as well, including her daughter.

Jean is a consistent presence in her members’ lives 

In just one year’s time, Jean has collected so many beautiful stories—many of which involve her ability to provide exactly what her members need most either in the moment or in a particular season of their lives. In-person support is such a valuable resource with endless applications, and Jean is proof of that.

One of Jean’s regular members has struggled with addiction, but is getting the help she needs. Jean drives her to and from her support group every Sunday. She’s not the only member Jean drives to these important meetings, and the women trust her with their stories on the drive.

“They just like to vent,” Jean says. “They tell me how great they feel after going to the meeting or they tell me personal problems from the past.” Jean sees herself like a bartender, listening to their secrets—and keeping them safe. “They know they can confide in me and get things off their chest. And they know I’ll make them laugh.”

On Veterans Day last year, she took a Vietnam War Veteran to get a colonoscopy. “Of all the days to get a colonoscopy,” she thought, but he had no one else to take him. Would he have gone at all if it weren’t for Jean? Maybe not.

She takes another member to the gym every week to strengthen his knees so he can avoid surgery. She runs errands for him while he works out. He recently had a colonoscopy as well and Jean made sure he had everything he needed for recovery—including beef broth and homemade jello. The look on his face when he saw the jello was priceless, she says.

A 93-year-old member had to get three teeth pulled and told Jean, “I don’t want anyone to bring me but you.” So Jean took her and made sure to be available for her follow-up appointment to have an impression made. Jean told her, “Hey, make sure you make a good first impression” and they had a good laugh. 

Stepping in where others won’t

Another member had just gotten out of the hospital for the ninth time before his first Papa visit. His health issues were debilitating. He has diabetes, congestive heart failure, and spinal stenosis. He told Jean, “I just woke up one day and said, ‘I don’t want to die,’” and he started making big changes in his lifestyle—including scheduling regular visits from a Papa Pal.

Jean said he eliminated sodium from his diet and got rid of all the processed food in his house. He lost 30 pounds in two months, and his blood sugar levels went way down. His doctor was thrilled and took him off some of his insulin. Jean visits him every week and calls herself his cheerleader.

She also takes him to his podiatrist appointments when others wouldn’t. Jean said this member tried other transportation services, but they refused to go up the three steps to his front door and help him with his walker. “He can get down the stairs and get in the car no problem,” she says. “So I said ‘I can take you to the podiatrist.’ He said ‘Really?’ Now I’m taking him.”

Jean says they’ll also go for rides by the beach to get him out of the house, since he’s often homebound. He’s more talkative than ever and says he feels great. He’s estranged from his family and is grateful for Jean’s help and encouragement.

Being a Papa Pal has eased Jean’s loneliness, too

A lot is said about the benefits members receive from their Papa Pals, yet Pals get so much out of the relationships as well. After moving to Rhode Island, away from friends and family, Jean admits she’s often lonely. 

She’s grateful for the friendships she’s developed with her members. “I look forward to seeing them,” she says. “They make me laugh. I make them laugh. They’ve certainly taken lonely days from me also. It works both ways for us.” 

Jean finds great joy in doing small things for her members—small things that have a big impact. She went to the hardware store and brought Ice Melt to a member’s house when he mentioned he may have to cancel their visit because he was afraid to walk on his icy steps. She delivered lasagna and cake to another member on her birthday. For Christmas last year, she collected seashells and filled little bags for her members. She bakes them cookies. “They just get so excited,” Jean says. “It probably makes me feel more happy than it makes them.”

This job is more than the paycheck, Jean says. And her members are more than acquaintances or work relationships. She has had so many memorable experiences and knows there are many more to come. “I love them so much,” she says of her members, and they love her right back.