Written by The Business Journal Staff
Michelle Mastro, Executive Director
Valley Caregiver Resource Center
What we do:
Valley Caregiver Resource Center and its affiliated programs, Caregiver Resource, OASIS, PALS, Ombudsman & HICAP, offer a comprehensive array of services designed to assist elders and their families master the challenges that accompany the aging process. As long-standing advocates and collaborators in preserving the health and quality of life of others, our aim is to promote personal and community well being. VCRC connects the over-looked with what they need most in life.
Attended Clovis High School and CSU, Fresno
Three sons and two daughters.
One 8-year-old granddaughter and one 5-year-old grandson. (My pride and joy)
How did you come to your position with Valley Caregiver Resource Center, Michelle?
Having been involved with VCRC for over 11 years, it was a natural progression. The prior director, Margery Minnie, had started VCRC over 26 years ago and was preparing to retire while I was doing contract work with VCRC.
What were you doing before that, Michelle?
I was handling the accounting for the family plumbing business following work with my extended families’ farming operations.
How has the organization changed since you came on board, Michelle?
We have intensified our outreach and have gone through a rebranding process to raise important awareness of all that our organization provides for the community. Many times, as is natural, until there is a need in your own family, our services are not known, or if they are known, they are not really given attention.
What activities and services do you offer through the OASIS/PALS program, Michelle?
We offer an adult day program for people with cognitive impairments such as dementia. Our PALS program is for those with dementia that are higher functioning. Both are Godsends to those families whose loved ones attend the program. They are based on a social model so the participants can interact with others and have fun while their caregivers can rest assured they are in a safe and loving environment.
What is the Ombudsman program about, Michelle?
Many people don’t realize the importance of our Ombudsman program. The staff and volunteers are tireless advocates and voices for over 8,000 residents in long-term care facilities throughout Fresno and Madera counties. Often, these folks have no one else to look out for them. What we have to remember is these residents are someone’s moms or dads, brothers and sisters, and though they are elderly and many are frail, we must ensure their needs are being met.
Describe your passion for helping seniors and those with health issues and where does it come from, Michelle?
My extended family has had major health issues since I was young. My mother was the ultimate caregiver and I saw firsthand how she supported those going through their health issues while trying to maintain and thrive in her own life. My grandparents lived with us and it was an honor to have had them with me in our home. When my parents became ill was when I first became increasingly aware of the challenges that our seniors face with medical issues, from health to care to paperwork.
What are the biggest challenges to senior citizens in getting adequate health care, Michelle?
Getting the care they need, understanding and implementing their health care and have support along the way. Without any one of those three components, their risk of their health failing rises considerably.
How reliable is Medicare now in assisting seniors with long-term care needs?
Medicare is effective but it’s always better to have someone help navigate the system and research the information.
What should people know about Alzheimer’s and dementia that they don’t, Michelle?
That neither are curable diseases, but they can be treated. You can maintain your connection and develop a new relationship with someone with dementia by accepting that it will be different. Life is not over with a diagnosis of dementia. Education and support is the key that many people miss by doing it on their own and not isolating people with dementia but understanding that they and the caregiver can thrive in the disease. Education also prevents abuse.
Describe the kind of support that Valley Caregivers gets from the community?
We have tireless Ombudsman volunteers, brilliant HICAP volunteers, sensitive and big-hearted OASIS/PALS volunteers and compassionate Caregiver Resource volunteers. In addition, we are always in need of financial support from the community.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? What are the challenges?
The most rewarding part of my job is when I see peace and relief come over a client.
The biggest challenge is that even after 26 years, many people are simply unaware of all the resources we have available for our seniors and their caregivers; and that, as a non-profit, we must rely on support from the community to augment our services and programs.
What did you learn from your involvement in your family’s farming business, Michelle?
Dedication, honesty, patience and hard work are not a choice, but a must in your personal life and your business life.
What are your proudest accomplishments? What other goals would you like to achieve?
My main goal is for our community to have an ongoing respect for our seniors and caregivers. It is one thing to say our seniors deserve their dignity and another to give it to them.
What are your roots in the San Joaquin Valley, Michelle?
I was born and raised in Clovis and Fresno. My grandparents all came from Italy and began farming. They were poor but they had great faith in the potential of a better life for their families by being in the United States. With hard work and lots of love, they survived and the generations that followed are farmers as well! I was raised on a ranch and I was extremely blessed to have the freedom that space provides and the beauty of vineyards to surround me in my formative years. I have two older sisters and two older brothers and their spouses with whom I am very close. I believe our extended family now numbers close to 50 people and we still enjoy getting together for family holidays.
What do you do in your spare time, Michelle?
My family and my friends are a vital part of my life so it’s natural for me to spend my spare time with them. I also have a passion for reading.