Helping Hand: Sanchez Built a Business on Caring
When Veronica Sanchez arrived in North Carolina from her home in Mexico, the last thing she expected was to start a successful business.
Sanchez moved from Winston-Salem to Moore County, where she co-founded the HomeChoice Network with Mike Ianucilli. HomeChoice offers services from transportation and meal preparation to laundry care and errand assistance. Most importantly, though, they provide companionship to those in their care. Their target clientele is the senior population of the Sandhills.
Ianucilli approached Sanchez with the idea of HomeChoice in Winston-Salem, after she completed a training program to become an executive business head.
Ianucilli, who previously worked at St. Joseph of the Pines, knew about the Sandhills area and felt it was the right place to develop their idea.
"Moore was the perfect area for us to start the business," says Sanchez.
"There is a large senior community, yet no one was offering what we were."
Before Sanchez came to Moore County or Winston-Salem, she lived in Mexico City, where she was born and raised. The rest of her family, two brothers, two sisters, and her father still live there. They come visit about once a year, despite her mother's death two years ago.
Sanchez's mother was a housewife, who kept up well with her five children. Her father supported the family as an accountant. Sanchez, a middle child, began to feel very independent at a young age. Being in the middle, she constantly saw her older and younger siblings getting into more trouble.
She went to school, worked, and lived with her family until she was 27, when she moved to the United States.
According to Sanchez, the hardest part of leaving Mexico was leaving her family. Her husband had already moved to Winston-Salem, and she followed him six months later. The immigration process was long, time-consuming and stressful.
"You are leaving your friends, your family, your job, your culture, your language, everything," she says.
While her real family is far away, Sanchez has found a surrogate family in the clients and caregivers of the HomeChoice Network.
All of her clients give her advice, but the most reccurring piece of information she hears is "Do something good with your life." Her "good thing" is her son Kevin, age 7, of whom she is immensely proud.
When she was pregnant, all her clients took care of her and watched out for her.
"They quickly become part of the family," says Sanchez. "Often, I have clients ask me to bring Kevin on my visits."
Here in the tight-knit community of Moore County, Kevin has plenty of opportunities, which is enough to make her happy.
"I think this place is a really good area to raise my son," she says. "It's safe, there are many kids' activities, and there are good schools."
She knows her son will have a very different childhood -- not only is the culture entirely different, but he also has no siblings. Kevin will at least know and love to spend time with his parents, says Sanchez.
Sanchez was not always on the business track, but she has always been a dependable, hard worker. She held her first job in Mexico as a karate instructor for three days a week, from age 17 to age 19. She has a black belt in karate, and she was happy to give lessons -- especially because of the short hours.
"In Mexico," she says, "there's no such thing as a part-time job."
The luxury hours of her first job were lost when she began attending the National University of Mexico. She worked as a collection manager for a steel company from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, before going to classes from 6 to 10 at night.
The late nights of school and long days of work paid off, and Sanchez graduated with a business administration degree.
She met Greg while she was still in school. He was working at a nearby bank.
After they married, he moved to North Carolina, leaving Sanchez to adjust to a married life without her husband.
She was both excited and curious about her new life, but she was also nervous.
"Before I was supposed to come to America," she says, "I had a rash on my leg. I panicked and said I couldn't go anywhere because of this tiny rash."
She is happy she came, though the transition was difficult.
On arrival, she suffered from intense culture shock. The only information she had on the United States was from movies, rumors, or television.
"I thought I'd be coming to a huge city with subways, people, and buses," she said, "but then I arrived at Winston-Salem. There were churches everywhere, and just a little business here or there. I was shocked."
'A Friendly Face'
After she became more comfortable in her surroundings, she completed the business course that put her in contact with Ianucilli.
"Breaking into the American business world as a non-native speaker was difficult," admits Sanchez.
"But what our clients really need to see is a friendly face. They like having someone to listen, and then we go from there."
Once she gets to know people, she finds that they know what she means, even if she doesn't say it completely clearly. Also, they do not feel the need to correct all of her mistakes.
However, the process of getting to know the clients takes time. According to Sanchez, the first attempts to place caregivers are rarely received with open arms.
"At first, seniors fight us," she says.
"They feel like they don't have any independence or privacy, and they worry someone will see them doing something wrong, like forgetting to take medication."
Sanchez has found that making seniors comfortable with a stranger in their home takes time. Those who value their solitude feel threatened by the newcomer, despite the help being offered.
Caregivers move slowly, allowing the senior to adjust to their presence. They always make the utmost effort to give the client space and preserve the feeling of home. Eventually, the seniors come around to the presence of the caregiver, realizing that the HomeChoice Network is likely keeping them out of a retirement home or senior center.
Both Sanchez and Ianucilli worked in these types of communities before founding HomeChoice. They noticed a common problem: No matter how upscale the retirement facility was, seniors still complained.
"Many seniors move into retirement homes because they need just a few services," says Sanchez.
"They don't want to be there. Mike and I decided to find a way to make a retirement community without walls."
Offering a Choice
The two are satisfied with the freedom and independence they offer seniors. According to Sanchez, they make it possible for their clients to live where they choose.
"We give the person a choice to stay anywhere they call home," she says.
The Network's services are not just for the elderly-- those with broken bones, or other physically disabling problems can contact HomeChoice for care.
The services provided by HomeChoice do not include medical aid. Employees are not authorized to lift or bathe clients or perform other hospital-like duties. They call 911 in an emergency.
Because of this, caregivers do not have to be certified in nursing, and the Network can accept more applications.
"We had a lot of people apply," says Sanchez, "so we had the opportunity to be more selective in choosing who we want to represent us."
The majority of staff members are middle-aged or older and responsible. They have chosen to be caregivers because they are looking for a meaningful activity to fill their days.
Because they are older, they are better matches to the seniors.
"We try to match the personalities of our caregivers and our clients," says Sanchez, "so it will be enjoyable for both."
The caregivers are enriched by the company they find in the seniors, making the relationship a shared, two-way experience.
Being around older people also has a strong effect on Sanchez. According to her, it really isn't sad, as most people would assume. Instead, it makes her appreciate life more.
"My work makes me realize that I cannot take anything for granted," she says.
"I tell my son I love him every day."
Sanchez notices a difference in the care strategies between American families and her home.
"In my culture," she says, "you stay close to your parents. I lived with my family until I got married. But Americans are very independent."
In most cases, seniors do not want to move closer to their children. They feel that they would become burdens, or that their children would invade their lives.
By forming a strong, healthy bond with her son now, Sanchez hopes that her family can remain happy and comfortable with each other as she and her husband Greg age.
Greg, who works part time, takes care of Kevin during the day. In fact, since Kevin's birth, her husband has taken the role of stay-at-home Dad.
Still, Sanchez spends as much time as she can with them.
"When I am at work, I work," she says.
"When I get out, I try to focus on everything Kevin is doing. My family has always been the most important thing to me."
With the start of her business, and the attention she wants to give to her son, Sanchez has little time for other hobbies or distractions.
"When you have your own business," she says, "it's nothing like an 8 to 5 -- it's continuous."
Though she may be busy, her days are rarely repetitive. Work never gets boring, and she gets to visit clients and caregivers often.
Greg helps her with accounting, working part time in order to pick their son up from school and take him to activities.
Without Greg's help, Sanchez admits that life would be much more difficult, and she probably would not be able to do as much as she does.
"Nothing in life is easy," she says, "but having family helps."
Adi Anderson is an intern at The Pilot. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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