When it comes to evaluating an in-home care franchise’s services, clients always want to know about the caregivers who will be coming into their homes. For ComForCare’s clients in Wilson, N.C., that often means they’ll be lucky enough to learn about and meet Shirley Norwood, ComForCare’s Caregiver of the Year.
“Shirley taught a 2-year-old client, who was born with spina bifida, how to walk and talk over the course of 8 years,” says ComForCare franchise owner Preston Von Arx of her longtime employee. “Despite the client’s poor prognosis, Shirley went to work believing there was a much brighter future than predicted. The client’s mom worked long, unpredictable hours — as a result, so did Shirley. When Shirley moved out of the territory, she continued to drive early in the morning before school to get the client up, feed and dress her, and get her to the bus stop. After school Shirley made the same round trip to meet the client at the bus stop, make her dinner and stay with her until she was in bed for the night. And at Shirley’s wedding in July 2017, the client walked down the aisle as Shirley’s flower girl. There wasn’t a dry eye when the client walked to her former caregiver Shirley.”
“Caregivers are the heart of the ComForCare franchise system across the U.S. and Canada,” says Steve Greenbaum, CEO of ComForCare. “And it’s stories like this one that remind us why caregivers are so important. We are honored to have Shirley as a part of our ComForCare team and recognize the impact she has had on so many lives.”
Meet this outstanding caregiver and her boss, and learn why she is always in high demand among clients and families as a truly incredible ComForCare ambassador:
What’s the history of your ComForCare franchise?
Von Arx: I practiced law in Indiana and then my husband took a job in North Carolina. We had small twin girls, so I began looking at doing something beyond practicing law. I studied a lot of franchise options and saw what I didn’t want, and then my father and I went on some discovery days.
After a lot of research, I purchased the ComForCare franchise and opened in September 2002. I believe I was the third person to purchase a franchise. I was drawn to the business because even though I didn’t have a medical background I felt I could be successful with this type of business. I am a problem solver, and that’s what we do: We provide solutions and help people achieve a positive outcome.
Caregiving can be very tiring; what keeps you coming back and giving so much?
Norwood: I have been with ComForCare for more than 14 years. I think it’s the compassion that you learn from the clients, that’s what’s rewarding. The love they give, and the experience you get helping them, that’s what life is all about.
I also like our team and being in the office. We have a lot of meetings and opportunities to learn from each other. If a particular client has an issue, we meet to talk about what’s going on and see if we can find a way to do things better. ComForCare is all about problem solving, and we listen to each other so we can provide the best care.
Why do you think ComForCare is so valued in your community?
Von Arx: We keep being voted the favorite home-care agency in our area, which is gratifying. This is a small, Southern rural community and we do business face to face. Some clients’ families bring their payment into the office vs. mailing it in, for instance, just to visit with us. Personal connections are important in this business, and they are huge in our community. They know who we are, and where we are.
Norwood: They know for us it’s not just a job. To do this work well you have to have compassion. You can’t just go into someone’s home and do this or that. You must sit down and listen to them and see how you can help. When I talk to new employees or go out to talk to school kids or people who might be interested in this work, I make sure they know it’s not just a job. It’s a calling.
What attributes does Shirley bring to her work that make her such a perfect representative of what ComForCare is and stands for?
Von Arx: Shirley can always be counted on – even during a hurricanes or severe flooding. Several times Shirley has stayed with clients instead of her own husband and grandchildren, often working 24 hours to 36 hours straight. She also is a great mentor to other caregivers, helping to orient, train and teach skills to them. She leads by example for our new hires; arriving early to get updates and staying late to make shift changes go smoothly.
We’re not sure how, but Shirley seems to have 48 hours in her day — the word “no” is not in her vocabulary.
ComForCare is a successful, multifaceted business that offers peace of mind and improved quality of life for senior citizens and their families through support around life’s everyday tasks, and also through exciting and innovative programs such as DementiaWise® , a comprehensive care approach for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia that focuses on accentuating the positive by supporting and encouraging remaining skills and abilities; and Joyful Memories, an interactive, singalong program that uses the power of music to create connections and positive outlets for emotional expression. ComForCare’s other differentiators include in-home nurse assessments, customized care plan development and ongoing evaluation to anticipate and plan for changes, all based on the client’s interests, hobbies, skills and abilities that provide joy and purpose in their life.