By Patti Samar
Mellea Panduren’s office walls are covered in handmade, bright, colorful paper flowers. There is a sign on the wall that reads: “Breathe and just let go.” Nearby, there is a box of Kleenex available for both Panduren and her clients.
But the windowless room is full of light, most of it coming from Panduren herself.
Panduren is an eligibility specialist at the St. Clair County office of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. She manages a special caseload at Marwood Nursing and Rehab comprised of long-term care facility clients, and she has been named the 2019 recipient of the Laura Newsome Legacy Award. The award is given annually by Sanborn Gratiot Memorial Home, which is managed by Blue Water Developmental Housing, Inc. (BWDH).
The legacy award, named for the Council on Aging of St. Clair County (COA) retired executive director Laura Newsome, is presented each year to an individual in the Blue Water Area who has improved and enriched the lives of seniors in and around St. Clair County and Michigan.
“Ms. Panduren has received multiple compliments in the years that I have managed her, but the most rewarding compliments have come from Marwood residents,” said Rachelle Nogueira, the Family Independence manager at DHHS, and Panduren’s supervisor. “These are typically seniors who need the extra help applying for and obtaining verifications to determine eligibility. She works diligently with clients, their families, lawyers, authorized representatives, and Marwood administration to ensure each client receives thorough attention. She provides excellent care and goes above and beyond every day to make sure clients have what they need.”
To Panduren, it is all in a day’s work.
“My job is really split between two parts,” she said. “The service part is the quantifiable part, such as how many applicants are served per year. The human part is where I am a cheerleader, an encourager, and a friend.
“There are a lot of pieces that we fill.”
Nogueira noted that building those relationships with clients, in this setting, is not without heartbreak for Panduren.
“She has shared with me how hard it is to establish rapport with a client and his family and then have to process a burial request later for that client,” she said. “She focuses on the now and what she can do at that very moment for the client and his family to ensure they are comfortable and getting what they need to make the transition to the facility a little bit easier.”
A lifelong resident of St. Clair County and a graduate of Port Huron Northern High School, Panduren has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Baker College, and also an associate’s degree in human services. She has plans to apply to graduate school, where she would like to obtain a master’s degree in social work.
In her nomination of Panduren, Nogueira noted: “She’s compassionate, empathetic, positive, driven and competent. She advocates ceaselessly for her clients and their families, and she strives to make her workplace more efficient.”
For Panduren, all of that comes easy, and with good reason: “I love what I do,” she said. “I can’t wait to get here. I’m blessed to do what I do. It’s home and it’s comfortable here. I never thought working in a nursing home would be that way.”
Part of the reason Panduren feels so at home in that situation is because she sees her clients, though elderly and sick, as people with something to offer the world.
The sign on the door of her office reads: “Let your light shine wherever you are.”
Panduren said she put those words up in tribute to those she serves. “These residents, they shine, and they don’t always remember that.”