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Jonathan Perlman, founder of Tradition Senior Living in Houston & Dallas, TX.

“What I have learned is always be kind.  You never know what people are going through.”

Jo Alch

“What I have learned is always be kind.  You never know what people are going through.”

Jo Alch

The amazing, ebullient Jo Alch is an RN and founded one of the most respected in-home caregiving companies extant–Acappella; wrote a book about her life, including her experiences of being a caregiver to both parents with Alzheimer’s; and founded the non-profit “Pajamas for Seniors.”  Jo recently shared her experiences during an event at The Tradition-Prestonwood Independent Living Community, where the Community’s Executive Director and Healthcare Director Dustin Allen asked her questions.

D:  June, the month that just passed, is the month that focuses on Alzheimer’s.  Tell us about your experience caring for your parents, who both had this disease.

J:  My mother’s addiction to pain medicines led to her dementia, and my father’s alcoholism led to his.  I was living in Dallas and would visit them in New Orleans.  I saw signs of dementia in both of them.  I saw my mother wear the same clothes every day, and my Dad was disheveled.  I finally had to get help for them both—my siblings and I could not do it alone.  My mother was eventually in a Memory Unit and not getting good care, so we moved her.  As an RN, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly.  The Tradition is so wonderful.  You do your homework!  

D: You developed Accapella, which is tremendously successful. What inspired you to begin this business?  

J:  I was a hospice nurse for many years. I would hear from family members, “I thought hospice was 24-hour care until you died. I need round-the-clock care.”  I saw a void and realized that there was a need for private pay care that is exceptional.  I was told, “Jo, you will fail.  You know nothing about business.” I moved forward anyway!

D: You recently founded the non-profit “Pajamas for Seniors.”  How did that originate?

J:  When I grew up in New Orleans, my siblings and I were in our grandmother’s house on Saturdays. She was a retired charity nurse, and we visited nursing homes with her.  They were called “Home for the Incurables.”  There was no air conditioning.  The surroundings were all white, horrible.  Residents were wards of the state.  There were no pictures, teddy bears, flowers, balloons, or family.

 We were told, “Go say hello and hold their hand,” and the residents wouldn’t let go.

 Twenty-five years later, I became a hospice nurse, and I was assigned to several nursing homes in Dallas.  They were the same as the ones in New Orleans.  We would call the family and would get no call back.  There are so many who have no one.  In nursing homes, there are no pajamas. Residents sleep in hospital gowns.  They need dignity, caring.

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D:  How has your fund-raising gone?

J:  This is a team effort.  At first, a few, then other businesses became involved.  The Tradition—Jonathan Perlman—has been wonderful.  So many people didn’t realize that low-income seniors had nothing.   We have given 45,000 pairs of pajamas to date.  In Dallas, there are 16,000 nursing home patients.  Sixteen-to-seventeen percent of those have no family or friends.

The ultimate goal of Pajamas for Seniors is raising awareness.  There are so many grants—but not for seniors.  At nursing homes, there are no toothbrushes or toiletries. The residents are given $2 a day for necessities.  Pajamas and slippers are luxuries—not necessities.

D:  Your autobiography The Lemon Tree has tremendous content and transparency.  Talk about your motivation for that book.  

J:  I have a strong faith, which got me through a crisis ten years ago. My business was growing, and both parents had dementia-related illnesses.  My grandmother needed care, and her care fell to me. And I had my own family—my husband and three children.  I was overwhelmed.  One day, I started crying and couldn’t stop. I also couldn’t speak.  I texted a friend who was a social worker. I believe it was the Lord.  She texted back, “You are grieving. Come to my office.”  She said that I can’t do it all and need to recognize that I am only human.  Part of my therapy was to write my story. When I did, she commented, “Jo, this would be good to publish!” 

The Lemon Tree takes place in New Orleans, where I grew up.  Life at home was hard, and, as a little girl, I would ride my bike to a shop, the Lemon Tree, much like the Sample House is here.  The owner befriended me, so I would stop there after school, play with the toys, and eat the cookies.  She saved my life and gave me hope. 

Just like pajamas give hope.  What I have learned is always be kind. You never know what people are going through.  

D:  In The Lemon Tree, you talk about your relationship with your parents, which was difficult – a distant mother and an alcoholic father. How were you able to resolve those relationships?  

J:  I resented my parents for a long time, but I had to learn where they came from.  My mother’s mother was a perfectionist, and my Dad had a hard childhood. My parents weren’t just mean.  I learned that it’s important to talk – and always forgive.  I was with each of my parents when they passed, and each held my hand.  My mother couldn’t say “I’m sorry,” but she held my hand. 

 

Linda Faulkner Johnston – The Tradition

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