Time to repay Lena Vanderhoop, an amazing caregiver

Lena Araujo Vanderhoop and her eldest grandson, Curtis Sayles. — Photo by Meg Higgins

“Hard working,” “generous,” and “always helping others” often come up when people talk about Lena Araujo Vanderhoop.

She is known among friends, family, and the many clients she has served as being big-hearted, cheerful, and determined to provide the best for those in her care.

Two months after undergoing emergency open-heart surgery, Ms. Vanderhoop is still struggling to regain her strength, unable to work for several months, and uncertain of what the future will bring.

Adding to her plight, her once steady employment as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) for the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) dissolved when the agency shut down. She hopes a job will be available when she is well enough to re-apply to the VNA under its new auspices. If that fails, she will seek private duty work.

Along with her recent cardiac problem, Ms. Vanderhoop lives with severe chronic diabetes and is blind in one eye. Released from Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis after surgery, Ms. Vanderhoop spent time at Spaulding Rehabilitation Center and with her sister in Pocasset before returning to her Edgartown home. Still recovering, she will begin cardiac rehabilitation in a few weeks — as soon as she is strong enough.

According to her niece Trish Moreis-Stiles, the VNA’s collapse caused her aunt a host of problems.

“Suddenly she had no income, no health insurance, no money coming in to help pay her bills,” Ms. Moreis-Stiles said. “One of the worst things to happen was not having the three to six months of short-term disability that she had counted on…. She was basically left with nothing after 24 years of service.”

Soon after Ms. Vanderhoop got home, her washer and car broke down. Fortunately, her brother got the car running. Friends called, did errands, took her to appointments. Her grandson Curtis Sayles, who lives with her, has helped immeasurably.

“Thank God for family and friends,” she said.

But the washer still needs repair, she is behind on bills, working out payment plans, and is relying on the Island Food Pantry, “until I get back on my feet.” She is unable to continue the work that has not only earned her a living but also brought her great pleasure and satisfaction.

Seated on the couch in her comfortable and tidy Edgartown living room, a smiling Ms. Vanderhoop seemed chipper, calm, and anxious to get well and go on with her life. She admitted that convalescence tries her patience, though her energy is limited: “I’m not used to just sitting around. I’ve got to be going, doing something.”

Ms. Vanderhoop was shocked when she went for routine medical tests and was told that she needed immediate heart surgery. “I never expected this of me,” she said. “I just thought I was short of breath and could keep going.

One of 18 children, Ms. Vanderhoop was born in Vineyard Haven on April 9, 1945, graduating from the Tisbury and Regional High schools.

“We didn’t have a lot of money so we made a lot out of nothing,” she recalled.

Her first job was at the Aquinnah Shop on the Gay Head Cliffs, where she worked for 17 years. She was married to Elmer Vanderhoop for 21 years. Living in Aquinnah they had two children, Melissa and Troy. For years she was active at the P-A Club and VFW, and has long been a faithful member of St. Augustine’s Church. When the couple divorced, Ms. Vanderhoop signed on with VNA and soon completed training and became a CNA.

“I have always wanted to take care of people,” Ms. Vanderhoop explained. “I wanted to be a nurse, but I didn’t have the money to go to school. This was my way to do something similar.

“I really love working with the elderly and helping them do things that they can’t do on their own,” she continued. “A lot of times their families are off-Island or just don’t have the time to give them all the care they need.”

For two decades at the VNA, she brought comfort and well-being to many Vineyarders, and peace of mind to their families who knew they were so capably cared for. She was once honored as Massachusetts CNA of the Year.

“Lena Vanderhoop is just a marvelous, marvelous lady,” said Bob Holt of West Tisbury. He said Ms. Vanderhoop helped his older sister Betty Ann, who has many needs, to stay active, keep medical appointments, and even escorted her to Mr. Holt’s wedding in Falmouth last fall, which she otherwise could not have attended. “Lena is spectacular, I can’t say enough about this woman,” said Mr. Holt. Learning of her misfortune, he sent a check. “I wish I could do more for her.”

“People love Lena because of her sunny disposition,” her niece said. “People always refer to her as a ‘ray of sunshine,’ and say how sweet she is.”

She said her aunt is patient with clients, and uses laughter to win them over. Many look forward to seeing Ms. Vanderhoop because they know she really cares about them.

Nearly 20 years ago, Sharon Simonin of Oak Bluffs relied on Ms. Vanderhoop after her son, Austin, was born seven weeks early. Along with needing care for her tiny baby and three year-old daughter, Ms. Simonin had severe heart problems.

“I was blessed to have her in my home at a time when I was in need of someone as loving and caring as her,” Ms. Simonin said. “She was instrumental in my healing and taking care of my family.”

Now Ms. Vanderhoop needs a helping hand. Like many hard-working Islanders she has neither retirement funds nor savings to rely on. Although her work was steady, her salary was modest; she lived from paycheck to paycheck. Along with paying for basic living expenses, Ms. Vanderhoop’s medical conditions require that she purchase numerous prescriptions, including daily insulin. Even with Medicare, copayments for medications and office visits are daunting.

Her needs seem monumental, but her family and friends have faith that the generosity of the Island community is equally as huge.

This Saturday, April 12, the many Islanders who love, care about, and are grateful to Ms. Vanderhoop will have a chance to give back to her at a benefit dinner and auction at the P-A Club in Oak Bluffs. Starting at 5 pm, the event features a spaghetti dinner, music with DJ Mike “Smooth” Daniel, silent and live auctions, door prizes, and raffle.

Legendary auctioneer David Araujo, Ms. Vanderhoop’s brother, will use humorous arm twisting to reap the highest possible bids for a wealth of offerings, including Patriots tickets, hotel stays, gourmet meals, a fishing charter, and home maintenance services.

When told about the benefit, Ms. Vanderhoop protested. “I think it’s a good thing for other people. I don’t know if I deserve this or I’m worthy of that, but everybody tells me I am,” she said. “I’m not good with hand-outs. It’s hard because I’m so used to doing for everybody.”

She will be there to greet well-wishers and accept the generosity with her usual good grace and humility.

Ms. Moreis-Stiles, who is coordinating the benefit from her home in Virginia, said she is grateful for the outpouring of support, from friends’ help with event details to donations of valuable goods and services by individuals and businesses.

“People in our community know Lena, have had family members in her care, or know our family and want to do whatever they can to help,” she said. “I have absolutely been brought to tears by the Island response.”

Benefit Dinner and Auction, Saturday, April 12, 5 pm, P-A Club, Oak Bluffs. $15; $10 children (must leave by 8:30 pm).

If you cannot attend and would like to make a donation to the Lena Araujo Vanderhoop Benefit, send checks to P.O. Box 2647, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557. For auction donations or more information, contact Trish Moreis-Stiles: 703-216-9619; stiles.family@verizon.net