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Three Caregivers Commended with Village Shalom’s Top Staff Honors


The year 2015 became much more memorable for three Village Shalom staff members when the retirement community announced its Employee of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Allen and Gloria Block “Champion of Culture Change” Award winners on Dec. 11. Emily Hawes, Paula Jones and Dennis Nealey stood out from a crowd of 245 employees to take the community’s top honors. 

Tanya Leaming, Emily Hawes, Paula Jones, and Renee Schoonover celebrate after Hawes and Jones were recognized as Village Shalom’s Employee and Rookie of the Year.

The Employee and Rookie of the Year awards are made possible through the Charles M. Helzberg Employee Recognition Fund. Helzberg established the fund in 2000 to recognize exemplary Village Shalom staff members by honoring 12 Employees and Rookies of the Month throughout the year – serving as the nomination pool for the year-end honors. 

“I am so proud to work for an organization that understands the importance of recognizing staff for their hard work,” said Village Shalom Director of Human Resources, Tami Middleton. “Charlie says ‘the people make the organization – the organization does not make the people.’ Those words couldn’t be more true – and it’s because of his generosity that the program exists.”     

Employee of the Year – Emily Hawes 

“I was surprised, then emotional, then very happy – and I am still that way.” 

Anyone present at the awards ceremony can attest to the full gamut of emotion Emily Hawes experienced the moment she was named Village Shalom’s 2015 Employee of the Year. Hawes has served as a charge nurse in the Weinberg Health Center – Village Shalom’s skilled nursing area – since 2011. Endorsements of her caring, detailed and hard-working nature permeated from each of her nominations. 

 Emily Hawes wipes away tears of joy after being named Village Shalom’s 2015 Employee of the Year.

“Emily always puts the needs of our residents first,” said Renee Schoonover, Village Shalom Director of Nursing. “She always has a smile, and never says ‘no’ to anything. She is a valuable asset to Village Shalom’s team, and it is an honor and privilege to work with her every day.” 

The timing of the award presentation serendipitously coincided with the release of a mini-documentary film featuring Hawes as The Caregiver – the subject of the latest installment in the Village Stories film series that chronicles the role Village Shalom plays in the lives of its residents and staff. The film revealed that the inspiration for her choosing nursing as a career track is thanks to the care she received from a special nurse while hospitalized during college. 

“She was very compassionate, very knowledgeable,” said Hawes. “That made me realize the importance of nursing.”  

Hawes recently completed her degree and is planning to begin nursing school shortly. As Employee of the Year, Hawes received a statuette, dedicated parking space for all of 2016, and a check for $5,000 – funds, that no matter how tempting it may be to spend otherwise, she plans to fully apply to the cost of nursing school. 

Rookie of the Year – Paula Jones  

 “I thought, no way! I actually still kinda feel that way.” 

Paula Jones is not a big fan of the spotlight. She operates under the radar whenever possible, and prefers for attention to be focused on her residents, rather than herself. This has been evident since Jones took over as Memory Care Coordinator in the Shalom Suites memory care neighborhood 11 months ago. Jones’s caring, down-to-earth nature provides her with a special tact that allows her to not only to communicate effectively with her residents, but with their families and her staff as well. 

 Paula Jones beams with pride after being honored with Village Shalom’s Rookie of the Year distinction. 

“Paula has a big heart, and she truly understands and cares about her residents,” said Tanya Leaming, Assistant Director of Nursing. “She just got in and made the Shalom Suites her own. Families and staff enjoy working with her. She is a great listener and never makes you feel rushed when talking with her – no matter how busy she may be.” 

The admiration is mutual for Jones. For her, teamwork is what makes Village Shalom stand out from other places she’s worked. 

“The teamwork is great here,” said Jones. “The nurses are very supportive of each other – something I feel is thanks to good management.” 

As Rookie of the Year, Jones received a statuette and a check for $1,000.  

Allen and Gloria Block “Champion of Culture Change” – Dennis Nealey 

“Transportation, this is Dennis.” 

The friendly cadence that accompanies this greeting will bring a smile to anyone who knows Village Shalom Driver, Dennis Nealey. Nealey is a community fixture who has been providing a pleasant wave to all those who have passed a Village Shalom van or bus in the last 12 years. His uncanny ability to recall resident preferences is displayed every time he reaches for his iPod to peruse his extensive music collection to compile a custom playlist for each of his passengers – just one of the many examples of Nealey’s dedication to “culture change.”   

Dennis Nealey received Village Shalom’s Block “Champion of Culture Change” Award for his dedication to improving resident quality of life.

The Block Family established the “Champion of Culture Change” Award in 2008, in conjunction with the Menorah Legacy Foundation. The award honors an exceptional Village Shalom staff member dedicated to the concept of “culture change” – an industry term for improving resident quality of life by creating a home-like environment, promoting resident choice and increasing community involvement. 

“Dennis is extremely organized and provides excellent customer service,” said Eileen Miller, Village Shalom Director of Resident Services. “He has a friendly demeanor, a warm smile, positive attitude and he really gets the big picture.” 

Nealey was also commended for his mentoring skills and dedication to improving Village Shalom processes. As “Champion of Culture Change,” he received a statuette and a check for $1,000.