I was granted the license to open an adult day care center here in Waimea 15 years ago. I was in my late 20s and had worked very hard to get the education and experience needed to properly care for older adults. Through college and my early years in Hawaii I’d worked in long-term care facilities, adult day care centers, residential care homes as well as a home health aide, and felt it imperative to take the best of each of those programs and create a high quality home-like care environment.
It is with gratitude that I look back on the early days of our adult day center, in which I provided care for our cherished original Parker Ranch paniolo, employees of Richard Smart and friends of Anna Perry-Fiske. Being new to the Waimea area at the time, I learned much of what I now understand of this community through these gentle storytellers. I enjoyed seeing a manager of the Parker Ranch and one of his employees, both in my care, respectfully share stories and honor each other through compliments and kind jokes.
At the time, it felt like I was pioneering a trail into the aging industry, as even the concept of adult day care was foreign to most people. They would ask what I did for a living and one of two things would happen. One response would be the assumption that I was talking about child care, since all that would register was the term “day care.” The alternative would be a blank expression and head nod, like I’d said I was something hard to grasp like an analytical software technologist. They would politely smile and quickly move on to a new subject.
Fifteen years later, the responses have completely changed. The person I’m speaking with usually has a connection to a loved one who has benefited from an adult day care program or needed some sort of assistance. It’s wonderful to connect to the heart stories of others through my industry, yet it also gives me pause when I consider what it means. More and more older individuals are in our communities and needing care.
A wonderful benefit of the increased demographics regarding the older population is those in positions to make great change in our country are finding themselves to be more sensitive to the topic due to their own family experiences. Lawmakers, judges, physicians, etc. are caring for their own parents and realizing where some of the gaps are in the care system. Advocacy groups are also bulking up with passionate supporters who are demanding change.
I am grateful to the many amazing older adults and family members who have taken me on their journey through their kupuna transitions. Their experiences are heartwarming, bittersweet and moving, and deserve a nod of appreciation from a woman who has watched it all unfold like a beautiful Hawaiian quilt. We’ve only just begun.
Karyn Clay began caring for older adults 23 years ago and earned her B.A. in gerontology from SDSU in 1998. She founded Ho’oNani Day Center in 2002 and Ho’oNani Care Home in 2015, which are located on the same property in Kamuela. She hosts Caregiver Conversations gatherings at Tutu’s House the 1st Wednesday of every month.