Rachana Shah: Compassion and Adaptability in Care for Elderly South Asians in Massachusetts

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Rachana Shah

BOSTON- In 2018, Rachana Shah left her job of 20 years as a Systems Analyst to take a risk that would change her life: she founded Evergreen Adult Day Health Center in Woburn, MA- a place that the increasing aging generation in the South Asian community could call their home away from home. This was not a new topic for Ms. Shah- her focus on helping the community has been a part of her life for years.

She is passionate about the plight of seniors, the aging generation that needs more assistance as the time goes by. She watched her own parents, her in-laws, and their friends turning into “latch key adults”, with very few resources available during weekdays for independent movement. Language was often the barrier in most cases Ms. Shah witnessed, where the town provided senior services were not very helpful.

Ms. Shah, with the help of her husband and a few friends, gave the problem before them serious thought as to what can be done to help the elderly. They finally opted for opening an adult day health center in Woburn. Today, the center provides support to the elderly from the surrounding communities of Burlington, Billerica, Bedford, Wilmington and more, including services such as: van rides for pickups and drop off from homes, hot Indian meals for lunch, an on-duty nurse to manage the seniors; medication and vitals when necessary, arts and entertainment options including board games sessions, movies and plenty of reading materials in different languages.

On March 6, Ms. Shah will be honored as one of the 20 Outstanding Women of 2021 during the 18th Annual Woman of the Year Awards ceremony— to be held virtually this year. To buy a ticket, please click here.

Ms. Shah was born in Ahmedabad, India, and immigrated with her family to Queens, New York in 1986. Soon after, they moved to Lowell, MA where Ms. Shah attended Lowell Middle School and graduated out of Lowell High. She furthered her education at University of Lowell and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Information Systems. She married her husband, Gautam Shah in 1997 and moved to Lancaster, PA. Ms. Shah and her family eventually settled in Nashua, NH to be closer with their family and friends. Ms. Shah and her husband have one daughter, Sana, a sophomore at UMass Amherst; a son, Siddharth, a junior at Nashua High School South, and a wonderful dog named Whiskey.

A Q&A with Ms. Shah:

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?

Rachana Shah: After working for over 20 years in large corporations as a Systems Analyst, I decided to take a risk and founded Evergreen Adult Day Health Center in Woburn, MA, a place seniors in the South Asian community can call their ‘home away from home’.

Since its foundation 4 years ago, I have enjoyed performing day-to-day management of it, as I find there is nothing better than getting to knowing, serving, and spending time with our elders. I also believe that since our elders often live with their children and they are alone during the day, they do cherish every little opportunity they can get to interact with the outside world, I feel that the care and the companionship that they have found with each other at Evergreen is priceless and being part of their world is what makes the best of me.

INE: If you are engaged with any charity or non-profit, please tell us why this group and what do you do for them?

RS: I have been a longtime volunteer and an Executive Committee member for GURJAR – Gujarati Association of New England. I have always believed that diversity and acceptance of others is something that this country is built on, and to embrace that whole-heartedly is guaranteed to make life more enjoyable and colorful. I have grown up attending Gurjar events since 1988. In GURJAR, I found a perfect organization which can bring ethnic groups together and makes our fellow citizens aware of our backgrounds, customs, foods and culture. To have my voice heard, I accepted an invitation to join the Gurjar Executive Committee. Over the past five years, I have gone from becoming its Director to an Officer. I have been one of the principal organizers of many events and fundraisers which Gurjar organizes. Our cultural programs like Garba Raas and festivals like Heritage are huge successes and have made the goal of assimilation amongst various ethnic groups a reality.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was a core member for the Nashua Community Group.  Local residents got together and decided to help those in need.  At first, I made masks, and in the span of 2.5 months, 400 masks were distributed to local essential workers such as grocery store workers, fire fighters, police officers, and city hall workers.

As a group we then moved onto making and delivering food to the Nashua Soup Kitchen.  In total we delivered roughly 200 subway sandwiches, 150 burritos, and 12 large trays of pasta to the Nashua Soup Kitchen.

Finally, we helped local businesses by encouraging the community to buy from them.  We promoted deals from Gurnam, Burrito place, and La Santa via WhatsApp and word of mouth.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

RS: Sports, especially American Football – I love seeing men in their football gear especially Tom Brady 😊

Traveling – Traveling yearly and at times twice a year to multiple places domestically and internationally has been by far my best hobby.   My favorite places so far have been Alaska, Africa, Iceland, and Istanbul.

Fashion – I have been informed that I have a unique taste in fashion.  Keeping up with the latest trends, I follow multiple Indian fashion designers on social media. I take these trends and have my own designer create it in my unique fashion style.

INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field?

RS: Most of us work very hard to achieve a work-life balance that fosters our professional careers and at the same time enables deeper relationships with our community. I too have faced this challenge and believe that my work both in the Healthcare Program Management arena and more recently as an owner of the Evergreen Adult Day health Center (ADHC) is having a positive impact on others.

At the Evergreen ADHC, I manage nurses that provide care for medical need, and activity director that provides elders with activities to engage their minds and bodies. I enjoy seeing the participant’s transformations from when they are enrolled into the program to a year later has positively impacted their lives.

During the COVID lockdown, I worked with my nurses, activity directors, and participants to ensure they stay healthy, happy, and kept them engaged via online and remote activities.  Seeing them rise up in these difficult times brought me great joy.

As the Owner I was in a position to guide many peers and was a mentor to new employees. The Adult Day Care which we own and manage provides a superior, safe, and healthy day-time lifestyle to many elder citizens. The blessings I receive from them have been very inspirational and fulfilling. As mentioned earlier, through Gurjar I am at the forefront of many community-based cultural activities which serve many and have been an active member of religious organizations BAPS and JSNE. My life as a mother and as an adult day-care operator and as Gurjar officer and as an active community and religious groups has been hugely gratifying and has had a positive impact on many.

INE: Your rare talent?

RS: Event planner – I always enjoyed planning events.  It brings me great joy in being able to plan and execute an event.  I have planned events that range from being as small as 30 to large as 5000 people.

INE: Your favorite books?

RS: My all-time favorite book is “Gandhi – An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth” as I believe in Ahimsa and I am inspired by MG’s principles of using non- violence and peace to fight for your cause.

INE: Your favorite quotes?

RS: “Be active! Take on responsibility! Work for the things you believe in. If you do not, you are surrendering your fate to others.” ~ Abdul Kalam

“No matter what is the environment around you, it is always possible to maintain your brand of integrity.” ~ Abdul Kalam

INE: Who inspires you the most?

RS: My inspiration comes from many people that I am surrounded by, however my paternal grandfather has inspired me the most.  Growing up I saw his love for family, extensive charity work and community involvement in Ahmedabad, India earned him the trust from our family, friend, and community. His work has taught me how our family traditions, history, and moral values can have a direct impact on everyone around us. He always helped others without expecting anything in return.  My grandfather always said that to stay united you should respect others despite any differences, and not only should one forgive others, but one must also seek forgiveness if one has wronged someone.

His kindness and helping nature is what I try to keep alive on a daily basis.

Another source of my inspiration are my kids.  Their thinking, energy, positive attitude values and actions that keeps me on my toes.  I constantly evolve my thinking and my lifestyle on what I learn from them.

INE: Your core value you try to live by?

RS: As the time goes by and things change around us, I want ensure that I keep my acceptance and adaptability to the changes around me without causing any imbalance in my compassion.

I will continue to take time to time to understand the suffering of others and hopefully, being able to do something about it. There is a lot of struggle and suffering that can be alleviated in the world and with compassion I will be able to do help fellow humans in some meaningful way.

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