Kari Kalar, a certified nursing assistant, helps Helen Leabo, 79, get into her bed for a nap after lunch Thursday at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab. Kalar was named Employee of the Year for the facility.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Kari Kalar, a certified nursing assistant, helps Helen Leabo, 79, get into her bed for a nap after lunch Thursday at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab. Kalar was named Employee of the Year for the facility.

Sandrock Ridge worker Kari Kalar earns Employee of the Year

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Kari Kalar cuts a piece of chicken for Debbie Harris, a 53-year-old woman who has multiple sclerosis, to eat for lunch Thursday at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab. Kalar also salted and buttered the food to fit the taste of the former health care worker.

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Kari Kalar helps Hazel Hulstine, 88, get to her walker Thursday at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab.

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Kari Kalar tucks Ken Osborn, 92, into bed for a post-lunch nap Thursday at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab. Kalar makes sure the needs of each resident are fulfilled before leaving them to rest.

— Kari Kalar was impressed with a few of the new decorations in the room of an 88-year-old woman she has grown fond of.

Kalar chatted with her friend about her new dream catcher, photos and several Christmas cards that adorned the room.

Then, as the crackled soundtrack of old black-and-white movies played in the background, Kalar lifted the woman to her feet to get ready for lunch at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab.

As she escorted Hazel Hulstine to the bathroom, she picked a few silver hairs off of the woman’s black sweater.

“You had your hair braided again, Hazel,” Kalar said.

“Yeah, but they didn’t do as good a job as you did,” Hulstine replied.

In her third year as a certified nursing assistant at the facility, Kalar has earned 2009 Employee of the Year for her work with the facility’s 50 patients.

The facility’s staff and some of the residents vote on Employee of the Year, and minimum data set coordinator Sandy Tretter said Kalar’s nomination was a decision everyone could agree on.

“She’s very kind,” Tretter said. “She always stops to help, even if she’s really busy. All of the residents really like her.”

Tretter said Kalar is unique because she seems to care about her job and never responds with attitude even during busy or stressful times.

At 26, Kalar said she couldn’t imagine doing anything else with her life.

In Minnesota, where she grew up, her mother worked in a similar care facility.

“I practically grew up in a nursing home,” she said. “I really enjoy my job and taking care of the elderly.”

The joy she gets from her job blossoms from the respect she has for the people she cares for.

“They have been through way more than we can imagine,” she said. “There is a 103-year-old here, and she is in amazing shape. She told me when she moved here it took them two weeks to travel here in covered wagons from Idaho. They just have so many stories to tell.”

Her job Thursday was one many might not want to do.

Before lunch was served, she had to help several residents go to the bathroom, or she had to change and wash them.

But in caring for the residents, she has learned to appreciate what she has as a mother of two children in her late 20s.

“The biggest thing is the appreciation of life and youth,” she said. “As a young person, you don’t realize how easy you have it. Just getting up and walking across the room, or brushing your teeth, you don’t realize how long it takes them. ”

One morning this week, Kalar wasn’t feeling well and was lying in bed, thinking about whether to get up or not.

“Then I thought, ‘If those 80-, 90-year-olds can wake up everyday at 6:30, I can definitely do it,” she said.

Resident Norma Snowden was slowly making her way down the east hallway Thursday when Kalar walked by.

“What number are we on?” she asked Snowden.

“This is just one,” she replied. “I’m going for three today.”

“That’s good Norma, that’s better than none,” Kalar said, patting her on the shoulder.

“Some of the residents work out everyday,” she said. “They even lift weights. They’re amazing. Some of them are in better shape than I am.”

With residents such as Hulstine — whom Kalar says has the sharp mind of someone 50 years younger — she said she also has the opportunity to expand her mind and learn new things.

Hulstine watches Turner Classic Movies around the clock and tells Kalar about her favorite actors and what movies they’ve been in.

“It’s more like we’re friends than anything,” Kalar said, as she sat on Hulstine’s bed. “The age difference doesn’t matter at all.”

Hulstine said she’s glad to have someone like Kalar to sit down with her and talk Hollywood.

For Hulstine, Kalar is not only a caregiver, but someone with which to share her knowledge and passion, which mainly was directed at Robert Duvall.

“It’s just nice to have someone who understands my weird tastes,” Hulstine said.

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