Concierge service: Fighting isolation with connection
The daughter of a nurse, Kathy Allen learned respect for elders at an early age.
She remembers going to work with her mom, a single-mother of four, and talking with seniors, combing their hair and making their beds.
"That was very important to her to have us be connected," she said.
The sense of respect and care has stayed with Allen, who has now started a concierge business, St. Croix Valley Concierge Service, to help those who need services and companionship in the area.
Allen first started her concierge work in 2007, after her son moved to New Zealand. She worked to save up money to visit him for a month.
"That was the beginning of the idea of 'I want to serve my community,'" Allen said.
She saved up enough for her trip to her son, but the day she returned she had a nervous breakdown and started getting sick. Allen had Lyme disease.
Recovery took a long time. Allen was bedridden in the hospital in River Falls when she decided to go out to San Diego where her sister lived. There she earned money pet sitting, watching people's homes, and eventually, taking care of people's elderly parents.
During that time she met a woman named Ursula who had no family and only one neighbor who was checking in on her.
Her time with Ursula was what first exposed her to the isolation many eldery people face.
"This just woke me up to the biggest thing of - we have a problem here," she said.
When she moved back to River Falls, Allen began working at Comforts of Home. That experience further demonstrated what she had learned with Ursula.
"It just again, it made me realize that these people are so isolated, don't have a lot of people coming to visit them, they don't get out much," she said.
The concierge business was born from that realization.
Allen's time working with eldery, specifically with Ursula, showed her what an impact she can have. The two would go out together into the community, and made regular trips to Trader Joe's. There Urusala, who had dementia and depression, opened up, talking with staff and remembering their names and where she was.
"She was like a new person, you know, and she was part of a community," Allen said.
Her goal now with her concierge business, beyond providing services like cleaning and pet sitting, is to help with the social life of those who are isolated.
Formal Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has called isolation an epidemic and a huge public health issue. A 2010 Brigham Young University study showed isolation can have an impact on life span equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
"My business is to get these seniors active and engaged and part of the community," Allen said.
St. Croix Valley Concierge offers light housekeeping, transportation, errands, pet care, housesitting and more, to both seniors and families.
The main focus is on companionship. Allen will spend time with clients in their homes and help them get out into the community. She is also willing to travel with clients, or assist them in doing so. It's all about forming relationships.
Her favorite part of the job is just sitting with her clients, listening with interest to their lives.
"They have a lot to say," Allen said.
The service is something she can do individually, today to help replace the loneliness with community and purpose.
"This is where my heart is, this isn't just a job for me," Allen said.
As a community Allen said people need to create networks of support for those who are isolated. There's a variety of ways to do that. Churches are already a piece of it, Allen said. Other ways can involve bringing kids or organizations into nursing homes to visit, fish, paint nails, and more. Music, art and nature are all ways to get people connected, Allen said.
She encourages others to volunteer and visit.
"It is the smallest things that make a huge difference," she said.
To learn more about St. Croix Valley Concierge Services, contact Allen at 715-821-0894.