Three years ago, Aynalem Bedaso left Dubai to join her family in Minnesota.
Born in a small city in northeast Ethiopia, Aynalem (pronounced Eye-NAHL-um) grew up attending school and working odd jobs, but career opportunities were limited. When she was in her late twenties, she moved to Dubai, where she supported herself by babysitting and working in shipping and cargo for six years.
After her parents passed away, Aynalem – most folks call her “Eye” for short – left Dubai to join her sisters, brother, niece and nephew in Minnesota. After the heat and busyness of Dubai, Eye fell in love with Minnesota’s cold climate and calm.
“I felt right at home here,” Eye says, now 36.
Soon, Eye began working at Woodbury Senior Living in housekeeping, cleaning residents’ rooms and washing laundry.
“What we noticed when saw this woman cleaning the rooms is she has this smile that just draws you in,” says Margaret Wachholz, the campus marketing director. “One day, I approached our chaplain and told him, ‘Eye is something really special.’”
The chaplain agreed with Margaret, saying Eye always seemed to know which residents needed extra comfort.
Because of her natural connection with residents, Eye was encouraged to become a home health aide, where she thrives today. She says her residents remind her of her late mother and father.
“I like to take care of residents because it’s my family,” Eye says. “I like to listen. I love the residents – I give them time.” She adds that no matter how busy she is, she always makes a point to talk with residents and ask how they are and how their day is going.
“When I go to a resident’s room, I just pray at the door,” Eye says. “When I open the door, I give them sunshine face. Maybe they don’t know my name, but the smiling lady, she comes!”
Eye also encourages her residents to dance, sing and have fun. One resident’s son cried and told Eye, “Thank you – my mom has never danced before.”
“It makes me happy, you know,” Eye says. “You have to make memories. When I’m dancing, residents laugh. When you laugh, you look like a kid forever. Your age doesn’t matter.”
Sometimes, even when she is not working, Eye will stop by to cheer residents who are not feeling well or celebrate a special occasion with them. “The shift is done, but you do extra things from yourself,” Eye says.
Often, Margaret receives comments and emails from staff members and adult children of residents expressing their appreciation of Eye. “Eye is not just an employee – she’s an investor in the residents,” says Margaret. “The love speaks louder than anything.”
Eye grieves when one of her residents passes away. “One woman, after I prayed for her, she died in my hands,” says Eye. “I always remember.”
“Sometimes in my life, I’m sad,” says Eye, “but when I come to work, they make me happy. The people ask me, ‘What do you have inside?’ It’s God. I love this work.” Eye laughs, adding, “My family asks me – do you stay here or do you sleep there?”
Eye also attends night classes twice a week in Cottage Grove to improve her English. Margaret would like to see Eye receive a scholarship to continue her education and grow in the caregiving profession. Eye appreciates the encouragement and looks forward to advancing in her career as a caregiver.
“When I come here, my life is completely changed,” Eye says. “I love to be here.”