Lawrence (on the right) with his client, Gary
In 2016, when Lawrence Thuku flew from Nairobi, Kenya to Seattle for a speaking engagement, he had not planned for his visit to turn into something long-term. But that is what happened. In Kenya, Lawrence worked as a journalist, news editor, and radio host. He was successful and well known, winning Radio Presenter of the Year in 2011. But, while in Seattle, he was alerted by his family and colleagues that journalists were being targeted; that threats on his life had been made, and that it was not safe for him to return home.
It was unforeseen and abrupt, but Lawrence recognized that circumstances had changed the direction of his life. He applied to the U.S. for asylum and set about building a new life for himself. His cousin lived in Seattle and worked as a caregiver. She suggested he consider this line of work and he decided to give it a try. His first two caregiving jobs were in Adult Family Homes. When the second home went out of business, Lawrence found and was hired by Family Resource Home Care. That was just 14 months ago.
Lawrence acknowledged the many ways his life has changed but says, “I believe I have adjusted well; I’ve always been willing to take on new challenges. Now my work involves being important in one person’s life.” Lawrence does live-in five days a week. His client, Gary, is 61 years old and has frontal lobe dementia. “I am lucky that Family Resource placed me with someone with whom I share interests. Enjoying music and sports helped us develop a real bond,” he says. “It’s a friendship.”
Lawrence’s supervisors nominated him for Platinum Caregiver of the Month because he represents Family Resource’s highest values. Clare McKannay, Bellevue Regional Manager, says Lawrence “sincerely cares for his client. He is reliable, flexible, kind and compassionate. He improves the quality of his client’s life and brings him respect and dignity.” Home Care Caregiver Manager, Lashawnda Ragsdale, says “Just witnessing Lawrence’s dedication to his client sets the bar for the type of caregiver I’d want for myself or my family member. Lawrence’s commitment to the care of his client, family and their home is something I haven’t seen before. You can tell that Lawrence is like family.”
Lawrence and Gary in the African Village at Disney World wearing their matching shirts that say “no worry be happy” in Swahili.
Lawrence is an extremely creative caregiver. “Sometimes Gary thinks his old boss is coming to his house and he becomes anxious about getting ready. I had the idea to call his boss and ask him if I could record him telling Gary that he was not coming over. Now when Gary thinks he is coming, I just play the recording and that calms him down. Sometimes Gary loses his words and starts to stammer,” Lawrence continued. “I found that if I act like I’m doing a radio show and hold up a pretend microphone and interview him, his stammer goes away, and he is able to speak more easily. I also do this when Gary is very quiet and not engaging. When I hold a “microphone” up to his mouth, it encourages him to start talking. My belief is that nothing lasts forever, explains Lawrence, “and even if Gary is having a difficult time, I don’t see it as a challenge. It’s just something we get through together.”
Often Gary can be forgetful and does not filter what he says. “He needs constant supervision and a lot of reassurance,” says Lawrence, “but he also loves to be active. We play basketball and pool and go biking. He loves to go to Starbucks. He even taught me to play UNO. We watch movies, play video games and listen to music. We sing together and dance.”
Skiing with Gary’s wife, Eleanor
Seeing Gary and his family happy is the best part of being his caregiver, reflects Lawrence. “I want him to enjoy life and have things to look forward to. I want him to feel important, loved and cared for.” Throughout the past year, Lawrence has traveled with Gary and his family, visiting Hawaii, Florida, and Arizona. His presence has allowed the entire family to enjoy time together because they know that with Lawrence’s help, Gary is safe and living each day to the fullest.
Perhaps the most meaningful praise comes from Gary’s wife who wrote, “Lawrence has become an important part of our family. My husband has lost much of his ability to communicate over this past year. Lawrence uses his outgoing personality, natural curiosity and wit to coax Gary into speaking when he can; and becomes Gary’s voice when he can’t. His patience and humility are an inspiration to me, and his involvement has allowed our family to focus on opportunities to find joy rather than on the daily struggles of caregiving. I am very grateful to have Lawrence as part of our lives.”