Caldwell, N.J. July 30, 2018 – Clients at Hillside Senior Citizens Center say Kimberly Valladares has a beautiful smile. It is a compliment she appreciates hearing when she goes into her summer internship site at Hillside. “They inspire me,” says Valladares, a student majoring in nursing and minoring in public health at Caldwell University. “They are older and they have gone through many life situations…and despite their aches and pains, they still smile and laugh…it gives me perspective.” That perspective also comes from Valladares’ own share of life experiences —experiences that have given her wisdom beyond her age.
When Valladares was 20 years-old she experienced a stroke following brain surgery to repair an arterial venous malformation. She was in a coma for two days, had vision and hearing distortion, and had to learn to feed herself and walk again. After rehabilitation and going through many therapies, Valladares made a remarkable recovery and she is now a junior at Caldwell.
She is not wasting any of the pain, using it to help others and make life better for them. During her time at her internship, she met an elderly woman who told her that last year after being diagnosed with leukemia she felt helpless and alone. Once she started going to the Hillside Center her spirits were lifted. It makes Valladares aware of the importance of her work in accompanying the elderly to help reduce their feelings of isolation.
In the spring semester, Valladares took an End of Life Matters course with Nursing Professor Kathleen Boreale, which she enjoyed. It has helped her in her communication skills with the seniors at Hillside.
Mary Dawkins, director of senior services at Hillside, is Valladares’ internship supervisor. She said the residents and participants at the Center get pleasure out of sitting with Valladares and sharing their challenges and accomplishments and hearing about her life. “Kim’s personal story of how she overcame her challenges is intriguing.”
Valladares’ internship was made possible through a grant the university received from the Council of Independent Colleges for its Intergenerational Connections: Students Serving Older Adults program, which sustains activities that enhance connections between undergraduate students and older adults in the community. It was started to establish best practices for engaging students in ensuring that older adults in the communities surrounding college campuses have nutritious food, affordable housing, a steady income, and strong and sustaining social bonds.
Dr. Brenda Petersen, associate dean, of the School of Nursing and Public Health said Valladares is an inspiration to everyone who meets her. “Her story of recovery from a stroke and a coma touches all of us deeply at Caldwell University. We are grateful for the work she has done to enrich the lives of older adults in our community through the CIC/AARP Intergenerational Connections Grant.”
In the fall, Valladares will start with her first medical job at a hospital and she plans to stay on at Hillside. The internship has reinforced her dream of being a caregiver. “It ties in with what I really am meant to do – to help the underprivileged. This job has helped me find my path.”