Meet Josie, Mercy Housing Resident and Volunteer Extraordinaire

From Sicily to Chicago.

Josie has called Mercy Housing’s Creekview Manor home for the past five years. “To me this is home. I really love it,” she recently shared. Folsom, California is a far cry from the island of Sicily, where she spent much of her childhood. “My mom was born in Dallas and when she was three years old, her parents decided to move to their home country of Italy and planted roots in Sicily.”

Her Uncle served in the military and was stationed in Germany where he was a POW. Though he managed to escape, he was unable to return to Italy and found his way to the United States, settling in Chicago. He would later write Josie’s mom urging her to move the family to the U.S., explaining that living in this country was “a better way of life.” And in 1953, the family boarded a ship and headed to America planting new roots in Chicago.

“It took us 14 days to sail to New York. We then took a train to Chicago. I lived there for 33 years,” she reflected. Josie would meet her husband in Chicago and together they had four children.

Sadly, her husband passed away when he was 38, leaving Josie to raise their kids alone. Without a formal education, she worked three jobs to make ends meet. “I cleaned houses, worked in hospitals, and cooked” she shares. One day, she decided to go back to school, and at age 50, Josie proudly graduated.

From Chicago to California.

After her two daughters, son-in-law, and sister moved to Northern California, Josie said goodbye to Chicago and headed west. “We were all sick of shoveling snow,” she laughed.

She found a nice community in the town of Folsom and made new friends. However, as the rent continued to go up and with her low income, Josie realized that she couldn’t afford to stay there.

She and her sister drove around looking for a new place to call home. They discovered Creekview Manor and liked it. “I’m really lucky,” she noted. Josie wasted no time in taking advantage of the onsite Resident Services programming.

Josie is preparing for an afternoon of karaoke at Mercy Housing California’s Creekview Manor.

A Special Bond is Formed.

“I appreciate her,” said Sarah Peralta, Resident Services Coordinator II, who also runs the Resident Services programming at Mercy Housing Fulton Gardens. “Most of the programming I do requires volunteers and that’s where Josie comes in. She’s always there to help me get the programs up and running.”

Josie added, “I love this lady (Sarah). She does so much for us. She works hard and I try to do what I can.”

So, it made sense when Josie began to organize and lead a monthly karaoke event for her fellow Creekview Manor residents. “People enjoy it and I love doing it,” she said. “Sometimes I have to ask people to sing along with me just because I enjoy it, but other times they just sing along.”

Among Josie’s favorite songs to sing are Barbra Streisand’s “Memories,” Doris Day’s, “Que será, será,” and a selection of Patsy Cline’s classics.

“Josie now combines karaoke with resident’s birthdays – we sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ and bring in ice cream or a birthday cake each month,” Sarah said.

“Some residents can’t get out or are in declining health, and Josie will take them food,” Sarah explained. “She checks on them to make sure they are okay and then lets me know what they need.”

Josie even hosts game nights at her apartment for friends to come and play. “It keeps us busy and keeps our minds occupied” she shared.

Expanding Resident Services Programming.

Sarah has been a part of the Mercy Housing Resident Services team for the past 17 years. In addition, to the many programs she has helped to create and launch, including financial literacy workshops, weekly reading circles for youth, and working side-by-side with partners to bring programming to the Mercy Housing communities she oversees.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown forced Mercy Housing communities nationwide to pause most of their onsite in-person, Resident Services programs. However, site staff remained at the communities to help support residents through wellness checks, assessing needs such as food, and trying to help people cope with fear and anxiety.

Resident Service programs have now resumed across all Mercy Housing communities and Sarah recently launched a new class for senior residents called, “A Time in Your Life.” The idea came to her following the pandemic lockdown. Her hope is that senior residents will be encouraged to get together in person and share stories about their lives, where they came from, and their beginnings. “This is a unique opportunity to come together and get to know one another,” Sarah shared.

She noticed that the senior residents, “Have wonderful stories and I love listening to them. Josie helps get them motivated and going to all the programs we provide.”

“This demographic loves music and they don’t watch a lot of TV,” Sarah explained. “I have a huge library here, so they are into music and reading. Josie doing her program is getting them out and moving, which is helping to reacclimate them back into Resident Services programming and out of their homes (post-COVID).”

Despite turning 84 years old later this year, Josie has no plans to slow down. From helping gather the residents for BINGO to creating the monthly community calendar, to cooking meals for neighbors, she has something going on almost every day. She shared, “My advice is to live one day at a time because you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.”