A Life of Caring - It's Gonna Be OK Featured Stories

Katie Fogarty: The Impact of a Caregiver

“What Simone gave us, and what Bickford gave us, was the peace of mind of knowing that when we leave him they are going to treat him with dignity and respect, the way he should be treated when we are not there. Because he couldn’t tell us what was going on. That’s what it meant, peace of mind.” 

Katie Fogarty and Simone Pena became colleagues in caregiving at Bickford of Oswego, Illinois, more than seven years ago, when Katie joined the branch as a concierge. But that’s not how the two met: Their friendship goes back more than a decade, to a time when Katie and her family found themselves on the receiving end of Bickford’s care. 

At just 68 years old, Katie’s father, Joe, developed early dementia after a series of mini strokes, or TIAs. Her mother could no longer care for him safely at home, and so the family decided he should move into memory care at Bickford of Oswego. Katie, now community relations director at Bickford of Aurora, Illinois, remembers the night she brought her dad to live at Bickford with vivid clarity. Joe was lucid enough to realize he was somewhere new, but couldn’t understand why. He manically roamed the halls, looking for his car, his wife, his home. 

Simone, at the time a relatively new certified nursing assistant, leapt into action. She took off her shoes so she could follow along and reassure Joe, who was still young and healthy enough that keeping pace with him wasn’t easy. 

A Life of Caring - It's Gonna Be OK Featured Stories

Shannon Riberdy: A Fierce Will to Love

“If you don’t know Simone, you’ll want to know Simone. No matter what the situation, she’s just that calm, steady, loving force.”

On her first day as interim director at Bickford of Oswego, Illinois, Shannon Riberdy felt like a deer in the headlights. Charged with taking over a property that had lost its leadership, she didn’t know any of the employees, families or residents whose care she was now responsible for.

Then a young, certified nursing assistant, just 20 or 21 years old, approached Shannon and told her, “It’s gonna be OK.” That CNA was Simone Pena.

“From the minute that I walked in, not knowing a soul, she took me by the hand and said, ‘I’ll teach you everything about how our branch operates. I can help you with anything that you need,’” recalls Shannon, now Bickford’s Vice President of Operations. Simone got Shannon up to speed on scheduling and took her under her wing as she adjusted to the new role. Most importantly, she ensured that the quality of care for the branch’s residents never faltered through the transition. “Not a beat was missed,” Shannon says. “She was the glue that was holding everything and holding everyone together in the absence of a director.”

A Life of Caring - It's Gonna Be OK Featured Stories

Simone Pena: Blessed

“If you’re blessed with someone to take care of you, it’s an honor to take that blessing and give it to someone else.”

It was a cold night in Aurora, Illinois, and 11-year-old Simone Pena stood outside her family’s apartment building, bereft and waiting.

The friction between Simone’s 13-year-old brother, her mother and her mother’s boyfriend had reached a breaking point that evening. What began as an accidental fire started by an untended candle ended with the apartment building being evacuated, the police called, and Simone, her brother and 7-year-old sister getting kicked out of the house.

“I think the most disappointing thing was I had always been there for my mom and did whatever she said,” Simone remembers, wiping away tears. “So for her to say she was going to send us away was hurtful.”

Her father in prison, her mother’s back turned, Simone felt the weight of responsibility for her siblings fall onto her own young shoulders. “The only thing I could think of was keeping my sister safe,” she recalls, “and letting them know that everything was gonna be OK.”