Tammy RyanNewburgh Director — Sunshine ADC
If you ask Tammy Ryan what goes into planning activities at Sunshine’s three locations, she’ll tell you: “It’s all about having fun. If it’s not fun, we really don’t want to do it.” In addition to overseeing Sunshine’s centers, Ryan spends time with members every day at the Peekskill and Newburgh locations.
Ryan’s interest in working with the older members of our communities was first sparked when she was earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and wrote her thesis on the benefits of wellness programs for the elderly. She went on to receive a Master of Education degree in Health Promotion and Wellness Management, and began her working life as a health counselor developing employee wellness programs for large companies. Along the way, Ryan also gained certification in first aid and CPR.
After a career managing health and wellness centers and a hiatus to devote herself to motherhood, Ryan returned to the field that had first inspired her as a college student, managing residential communities for the elderly. “I found a passion for the elderly when managing retirement communities,” she says.
That passion guides her work as Sunshine’s regional director. “You can genuinely see with the population we serve that we’re positively affecting their lives,” she says. “We have a duty to keep our members healthy and strong, in mind and body, to postpone placement into institutions and also to offer a much needed respite for caretakers. I make sure that our members are having a good experience and that we’re providing them compassionate care.
Ryan credits the success of Sunshine ADC to her staff. “They enjoy working with this population,” she explains. “That’s what makes for a successful daycare.” Ryan has built a staff of experienced, certified home health aides who find the time they spend with Sunshine members as meaningful as she does. “They’re truly compassionate people who are amazing,” she says. “I couldn’t be more proud of our staff.”
Sharing days that are filled with engaging activities and a spirit of camaraderie makes Ryan, her staff, and Sunshine’s members a vital part of each other’s lives. “When you get older, you can become lonely and isolated, and sometimes a victim of illness,” says Ryan. “We create these awesome programs and centers that are clean and friendly and warm and comforting for our elderly members to find a place to reach their optimal levels of functioning and to feel loved. And that’s rewarding. No paycheck could ever give you the type of intrinsic reward that these members give back to us when we treat them the way they deserve.”
Jasmin TejeraMonticello Director — Sunshine ADC
“We’ve created a family here,” says Jasmin Tejera. “It’s magical, and it doesn’t happen everywhere.” Tejera is Director of Sunshine’s Monticello center, overseeing activities for both the adult home population and the group of social daycare members who share their time together at Sunshine.
Tejera holds a bachelor’s degree in Education and came to Sunshine with long experience managing community service programs ranging from health education to maternal and infant services. She has sat on numerous community boards and coalitions in Sullivan County, including Sullivan Renaissance, Latino Service Providers Coalition, Tobacco Free Action Communities, and the AIDS Council. Born and raised in Manhattan, Tejera has lived in the county for more than twelve years and is bilingual in English and Spanish.
In addition to her work directing the Monticello center, Tejera visits community members in their homes to bring them information about Sunshine. That outreach work allows her to see the difference that joining Sunshine can make in members’ lives. “It changes their way of life,” she says. “It gives them back their freedom, independence, and creativity. I have people who were painters once, and because they had a stroke, they weren’t able to pick up a drawing pad again. When they came to the center, they realized they could develop that skill again.”
To create the kind of environment that transforms members’ lives, Tejera works with Regional Director Tammy Ryan to program a wide range of activities tailored to the needs and interests of Sunshine’s Monticello members. She also organizes special community events where members sell craftwork that they’ve made and give musical performances together.
But even more than activities and events, Tejera points to her staff as Sunshine Monticello’s greatest strength. “I believe that the success of the program is determined by the staff,” she says. “You can have a million activities, but if you don’t have the proper staff to engage the clients in them, you’re not giving them heart and soul.” Tejera and her staff meet every day to make sure they’re responding to members’ needs, and they keep the lines of communication with members open. “It’s a give and take,” she says. “They learn from us and we learn from them.”
Tejera feels that the daily give and take with members has changed her life for the better, too. “I don’t think I ever want to do anything other than what I do,” she says. “I recently had a woman write a letter to us that said we gave her back her life. That itself is my reward.”
Erika De La CruzPeekskill Director— Sunshine ADC
“Being able to bring my experience and knowledge in Recreation to Sunshine guides me to implement a creative settings by providing a fun and exciting environment for the members. Laughter is always the best medicine, they walk in with a smile and walk out laughing making my day better because I know we did a great job. They all look forward to attending because there is always a surprising fun day at Sunshine”.
De La Cruz’s first interest in working in this field was personal, growing up around physically impaired individuals in her family intrigued her to explore the field, however even more when two of her nieces were born mentally and physically disabled. She earned a Bachelors in Science in Therapeutic Recreation and has worked in the field for over seven years and also has 14 years of volunteer work with a variety of populations. Born in Nyack, however raise in the Dominican Republic, De La Cruz is bilingual in English and Spanish.
She started at Sunshine as the Director of the Adult Home population in the afternoon and then took over the senior morning program. Having the experience to work with various populations brought a fun, enthusiastic approach to of the members. But, nothing would had been accomplished if it wasn’t for her team. The Life Enrichment Specialist’s put their love and passion of working with the members to make them feel special, wanted, appreciated and loved. “It makes me proud to know that the team at the Peekskill location and its members look forward to coming to their second home. Making them feel loved and wanted by their extended family, makes us feel blessed.”
Too implement a fun, creative, loving and exciting environment, De La Cruz works with Regional Director Tammy Ryan to program a wide range of activities designed to the specific necessities and interests of Sunshine’s Peekskill members. De La Cruz also created a template for the activity and menu calendars, in order for the schedules to reflect the same creative templets through the sites. “Working as a team no matter what County we are all located in, builds a strong team.”
Coming from a large family that includes five sisters who are registered nurses, Aida Garcia began working as a caregiver for seniors at the tender age of 16. Garcia now lives in Newburgh and enjoys reading, dancing, and spending time with her two growing boys.
“My mission at Sunshine is to show our members that there is more to life than being alone or being mistreated,” Garcia says. “I love each and every one of our members. I love to make them smile, feel happy, and overall feel loved. I honestly don’t think of it as just my job. It’s my life.”
Milagros Caceres came to Sunshine with a lengthy career in community service already behind her. After moving from Puerto Rico to New York City as a child, Caceres raised a family in NYC with her husband, Heriberto, and put her bilingual skills to work as an advocate for Spanish-peaking residents seeking help with housing, education, and immigration issues.
Caceres has been honored for her service by organizations including the Lions Club and Latinos Unidos, and continues to contribute her time and talents to Newburgh City events such as the Spanish Heritage Festival, National Night Out, and Annual Hispanic Heritage Cultural Celebration.
Krishna Zamora gets everyone on their feet with classes like Zumba Gold and salsa dancing at the Newburgh and Peekskill Sunshine locations. She also works as an outreach coordinator for Sunshine in Peekskill, helping seniors in the community learn about what Sunshine has to offer them.
Zamora started teaching dance at the age of 15 in her native Chile and enjoyed a successful career as a marketing manager after moving to the U.S. 22 years ago. Now a mother of two young boys, the Newburgh resident devotes her free time to fundraising for worthy causes. “This job makes me smile every day,” Zamora says. “Making seniors happy, helping them move and enjoy themselves, and giving them a better way of living is amazing.”
Margie Carrasquillo came to Sunshine a year ago after working as an aide at a senior center in the Bronx. She had previously worked for New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, specializing in maintenance and safety programs, and is certified in CPR and first aid. She is also bilingual in English and Spanish.
A busy mother of five—including twin sons—Carrasquillo lives in Peekskill and enjoys reading and relaxing with her dog Princess when she gets a little free time.
Amanda DeJesus came to Sunshine over two years ago to pursue her dedication to community service. “As a young girl growing up in NYC, I always enjoyed the feeling of helping others,” she says. “I absolutely love the capacity in which I perform here, as well as the members we provide service for.” Now a Monticello resident, DeJesus spends her time away from Sunshine raising a young son of her own.