by Paul Paterra,from the Observer-Reporter

For Lisa Bonnage, her clients are like family.

It is just that passion for her work that made the home health care aide a national nominee for 2021 Caregiver of the Year, the highest award in the care-giving industry.

Bonnage, 58, said she has been a caregiver for Sunny Days In-Home Care in McMurray for a little more than five years. She is one of more than 500 caregivers affiliated with Sunny Days, which also has more than 400 clients.

“This is what I love to do,” she said. “(My clients) become like family. I enjoy their families as much as I enjoy the clients. These families are entrusting our aides to take care of their loved ones. I take care of their loved ones just like I took care of my mother with love, dignity and respect, and that’s what they deserve.”

Bonnage was nominated by John Bennett, CEO at Sunny Days In-Home Care, through the Home Care Association of America. Home Care Association of America was founded in 2002. It is the industry’s leading trade association – currently representing nearly 3,000 companies that employ more than 500,000 caregivers across the United States.

The award was won by Greg Gorton of Right at Home in Grand Blanc, Mich., but to be nominated is quite an honor.

To say the least, Bonnage was shocked to learn she had been nominated.

“I was speechless,” she said. “I was very honored just for being nominated. It was a surprise. It was a very big shocker.”

Bennett feels Bonnage was just the right person to be nominated.

“Lisa exemplifies what Sunny Days stands for,” he said. “She puts the needs of her clients first and does everything she can to make them feel that they are cared for and loved.”

Bonnage, who lives in New Castle, worked as a certified nursing assistant for about 12 to 13 years until a back injury and subsequent surgery forced a change.

She eventually served as caretaker for her mother, moving with her to Florida to do so, and away from her children and grandchildren in the process.

“My mother wanted to move to Florida and couldn’t go by herself. That was her dream,” Bonnage said. “We moved to Florida and we had 3½ years there.”

Bonnage returned home once her mother passed away in 2016. She said she joined Sunny Days in October 2016. It’s a profession that she has found quite rewarding.

“Most rewarding is allowing them to do what they can and offer my services,” Bonnage said. “I try not to just jump in and do. I want them to still have their little bit of independence because they’re at home. That’s why they want to be at home. Some clients can do things and some can’t. I just like letting them have kind of independence, just so they can still do for themselves, but knowing if they can’t then I step in.”

Bennett was happy to have one of the agency’s caregivers nominated for the award.

“Lisa has been in care giving for over 20 years,” he said. “She constantly is praised by clients for going above and beyond with the care she provides. Her attitude and professionalism are second to none. We feel grateful that we have the opportunity to employ so many wonderful people like Lisa who make a positive impact in our clients’ lives.”

Bonnage’s current client is her fourth since joining Sunny Home. Three of her clients have died in the last year and a half.

One of them was a woman she had known for eight years, and for the last 13 months of the woman’s life Bonnage was with her seven days a week for eight hours a day.

“She was like family,” Bonnage said, echoing her thoughts about her clients. “When she went to the hospital, she said, ‘Promise me you’ll take care of Sissy,’ her cat, and her fish.”

Sissy still stays with Bonnage.

“A promise is a promise,” Bonnage said.

Bonnage currently works with just one client two days a week for six hours each day.

“They try to match me with a client that I would fit with, and that’s what I love about Sunny Days,” she said. “Because of my back injury, I can’t do the lifting. For me to go in on someone who is wheelchair-bound, I can’t lift them.”

However, Bonnage has no thoughts of retirement.

“I plan on doing this as long as I possibly can,” she said.