Sunday Profile: A super volunteer’s success story
RIFLE — Spend enough time at E. Dene Moore Care Center on a Saturday and chances are you’ll find Leticia Lozano with a cart filled with nail polish, clippers, nail files and other utensils used to give the residents of the Rifle facility manicures.
For nearly 11 years Lozano has made an effort to spend four to five hours at least every other Saturday giving manicures and talking to the residents — work she does on a volunteer basis.
It has become ingrained into regular life, which over the past 11 years has also included becoming a U.S. citizen in 2008, raising a family, receiving an education and climbing up the workplace ladder from housekeeper at the center to her current position as women’s wellness connection coordinator with Grand River Health — which operates E. Dene Moore.
Lozano’s consistency with her volunteer work earned her the Above and Beyond award at the 2013 Grand River Health Volunteer Gala, an annual event recognizing volunteers. The occasion caused Lozano to get a little red in the face, remembers Kaaren Peck, director of volunteer services at Grand River Health.
“I think that she was totally shocked. … She doesn’t do it for outside recognition,” Peck said.
Lozano, who is hesitant and somewhat bashful when discussing her volunteer service, says as much.
“I don’t need the recognition,” she said. “I do it because I love the residents.”
‘I Love Lucy’ and learning English
Lozano moved to Rifle in July of 2002 from Aguascalientes, Mexico. Like many who come to this country, Lozano, a mother of four, moved in search of opportunities unavailable in Mexico.
“I was always looking for a better education for my kids,” she said.
Having traveled to Rifle before and with family living here, the Lozanos landed on the Western Slope. At the time, she hardly knew any English, “just the basics,” she said.
While picking up and starting over in a new country is a daunting task, her thirst for knowledge and natural disposition to “take things as they come” buoyed the family during the transition.
She started learning English by watching reruns of “I Love Lucy” and within six months landed a job as a housekeeper at E. Dene Moore. Her desire to gain a firm grasp of English persisted, and after learning enough to communicate — mostly from the “I Love Lucy” reruns — she instructed her fellow employees to correct her if she said the wrong word or phrase.
“I wanted it so bad that it just happened. I would even have dreams where I was speaking the language,” she said.
A year later, she started the process of becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) because, as she said, she wanted to help the residents, who would frequently ask for help. As a housekeeper, Lozano was limited in what she could do, although she admits to occasionally sneaking beyond the boundary of what she was permitted to do.
“It was very frustrating,” she said of being unable to help the residents with their requests.
Becoming a CNA was the first of several steps Lozano would take in her career progression, which to this day even surprises her, to a degree. Several friends who started in housekeeping with Lozano are still there.
“I remember talking about wanting to go to school and they said, ‘Why would you want to do that? You already have a job.’”
Lozano worked as a CNA at E. Dene Moore until 2004, when on a busy day she injured her back. The occurrence is a common one in the nursing assistant occupation, which sees more on-the-job injuries than most other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Of the occupations with at least 30,000 cases of days away from work, nursing assistants had the highest rate in 2013 at 373.2 per 10,000 full-time employees — a rate that narrowly surpassed laborers and movers, the BLS reported in 2014.
The injury was not completely debilitating, but Lozano was restricted to light duty. That was until she was determined to still be at risk. Ultimately she moved to the medical records department at Grand River Hospital.
Some kind of therapy
Lozano handled the workplace transition well — she advanced to the position of records analyst within a year — except for one issue: She missed the residents at E. Dene Moore, to the point that she nearly felt guilty.
“When I moved over to the hospital I felt so bad I asked if I could do some volunteer work,” she said.
Someone suggested the idea of giving manicures, and Lozano jumped at the opportunity.
“I really liked working there because I feel so close to the residents,” she said.
Not only did it provide an opportunity to reconnect at the center, but her worked serves a valuable purpose. Long and unkempt fingernails can easily break the skin of an elderly person, Lozano explained.
Since starting as a volunteer, she has logged more than 1,100 hours of volunteer work, according to Peck, the director of volunteer services.
While Grand River has a little less than 200 active volunteers, only a handful — ten or fewer — volunteer with the sustained consistency of Lozano.
“She is really within a handful of people who consistently do it, year-in, year-out week-in, week-out and enjoys it and does it with a smile on her face,” Peck said.
Lozano smiles for a reason.
“I relax a lot talking to them. They have lots of stories to tell. … It’s some kind of therapy for me as well,” she said.
However, she certainly is not the only one who smiles.
“She’s awesome,” said Helen Taylor, activities manager at the center. “She listens, she understands them. They’re happy to see her.”
Ellie Blockman was one of those who was happy to see Lozano on a Saturday in August. She smiled the entire time as Lozano filed her nails and applied nail polish, all while gently speaking to Blockman, who communicated through facial expressions.
Taylor walked by as Lozano finished, and asked Blockman if she thanked Letecia. The smiling Blockman did not acknowledge Taylor, and she did not need to, Lozano said.
“Her response says it all.”
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