Meet Rafael and Connor: Supporting the Man Who Does It All

What can you do for someone who is perfectly capable of helping himself? One Papa Pal has found what even the most self-sufficient person needs.

Meet Papa member Rafael (“Rafi”)

Rafael, or Rafi as his friends call him, is a 79-year-old man living alone in his home near St. Petersburg, Florida. He is very independent, drives himself everywhere he needs to go, and rides his bike almost every day. He has a chore system, where he does things on the same day each week. Saturday, for example, is laundry day.

Rafi has lived a very full almost-eight decades. He immigrated from Cuba in 1961. Then he served in the Army, got married, lived in New Jersey for years, went on 50+ cruises with his wife, retired and moved to Florida, and volunteered at a local food pantry.

Four years ago, he got divorced. His ex-wife, who he remained close with, remarried to a long-time mutual friend. Sadly, she developed Alzheimer's and passed away last August. It hit Rafi hard.

But with his heart of gold, Rafi remained good friends with the man his ex-wife married and even helped him sort through life insurance paperwork after her passing. Now, he says they’re the best of friends.

A neighbor of Rafi’s has Alzheimer’s too, and Rafi looks after him, taking in his mail or his trash cans—small gestures that mean so much. “That's the way I was raised,” he says. “If somebody needs help, you help them.”

Meet Papa Pal Connor

Connor, 34, has been a Papa Pal for a few months. He worked in sales and business development for 15 years and coached lacrosse. Then he moved to Sarasota and wanted to give back in a different way. Now he’s a full-time Papa Pal.

“For me, giving back to the Papa members and hearing their stories and helping them with daily living activities is extremely fulfilling and rewarding,” he says. “To see the looks on their faces when I help them? I absolutely love it.”

He’s been able to quickly establish connections, relationships, and trust with several of his now-regular Papa members. And it’s so rewarding to help people and hear their genuine thanks, he says. “I do it for my own peace of mind, to some extent.”

Sometimes companionship is all you need

Connor’s very first visit as a Papa Pal was with Rafi. Rafi doesn’t need help with errands or keeping up with housework, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need a Papa Pal. Now they meet every Wednesday afternoon.

Rafi’s house is impeccable and he does his chores religiously on a schedule. Connor still asks him each week if there’s anything he can help with—vacuuming, moving furniture, driving to the store—but the answer is always the same. No thank you. Rafi’s got it covered. He did let Connor help him flip a mattress a few weeks back. It took them less than five minutes.

Their visits are all about companionship and conversation, Connor says. “Rafi’s a great guy. Every visit is as pleasant as can be.” Connor says they talk anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour each time.

“Once Rafi starts talking, he shares his life story,” Connor says with a smile. They talk about “everything from his ex-wife to jobs he’s had to traveling around the country.” He has told Connor about immigrating from Cuba and his family in Miami, stories about his dad and brothers, and the years he spent in New Jersey. “It’s always fun, casual conversation. I probably know too much at this point,” he laughs.

It makes Rafi feel good when his Pals are interested in him, his history, his family, and his stories. 

And it makes Connor feel good to provide that companionship and listening ear to Rafi. “To just sit down and share human interaction with someone is what makes him happy.”

He lets Rafi know he sees what a helper he is, whether in regards to how he cared for his ex-wife or his neighbor or the co-workers he’s shared stories about helping out over the years. “I think he’s just a smart, caring, genuine guy who has always liked the responsibility of taking care of himself, but somebody else at the same time. From what I’ve gathered, he’s always been caring for someone.”

They’re both so thankful for the relationships Papa has given them. “It’s a blessing for us both to have each other in our lives at this point,” Connor says.

And Rafi couldn’t agree more.