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Family reunion

Skype and Seabrook staff member unite family after ten years apart

Created date

December 25th, 2012

Rocco Berardi hadn t seen his niece, Laura, in nearly ten years. But that changed last summer. With the help of Michelle Aguilar, community resources manager at Seabrook, the Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J., where Rocco and his wife Sonja live, and Aguilar s iPad, they spoke face to face. Despite a language barrier and six-hour time difference, Aguilar scheduled a Skype video call with the Berardis and Rocco s family in Chieti, Italy. We are very grateful to Michelle. She used her own iPad to get in contact with my niece, Rocco says in his heavy Italian accent. It was terrific because we don t know much about those electronic devices. Sitting in Aguilar s office, Rocco and Sonja faced Rocco s brother, his niece, and his niece s husband more than 4,500 miles away. We were glad to see their images, their faces, their smiles, their contentment, Rocco says emotionally.


As community resources coordinator, Aguilar is a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades. I am someone who engages the community in a lot of the resident-run activities, social events, and with each other, she says. From scheduling club meeting space to researching mini refrigerators for a resident s college-bound grandchild, Aguilar does it all. I m the person who people can come to, and they can always rely on me to at least point them in the right direction, she says. That s what led Rocco to her door. Or perhaps it was the other way around. I got a phone call one day from an Italian lady with a very heavy accent trying to get hold of her Uncle Rocco, Aguilar explains. I took all of her info, and we swapped email addresses. In the meantime, I gave Rocco the message. When Aguilar discovered the pair hadn t seen each other in several years, she suggested they schedule a Skype conversation. I had just purchased an iPad, she recalls, but Rocco didn t really understand. Through email, Aguilar and Laura scheduled times to practice Skyping before the big day. Finally, we set up a date and time with Laura and their family in Italy and Rocco and his wife, Aguilar says.

A precious gift

Huddled around Aguilar s iPad, Rocco and Sonja waited for the Skype conversation to begin. As soon as it opened, we immediately saw Laura and her father Rocco s brother. They all had tears in their eyes, Aguilar says. She recalls the emotional virtual meeting. The brother said to me: Thank you so much for giving me this gift. They spoke in Italian for about 30 minutes and planned to schedule another Skype conversation soon. I m looking forward to speaking to my family again on Skype, Rocco says. Michelle will instruct us how to do it. We are thankful for her. She is so wonderful.

Empathetic arrangement

While Aguilar assists residents with all sorts of matters, this one hit close to home. I personally know what it s like to have family overseas, she says. Her aunt, uncle, and several cousins live in the Philippines, and she stays in touch with them via Skype. I was so happy to be able to connect [Rocco and his family], she says. Since then, she has continued to email with Laura, and they have been working on scheduling another Skype conversation. It s almost like they re my family too, Aguilar says. I reach out to them just to see how they re doing. She says that in her job and in general at Erickson Living communities, you don t just have this one instance and you wash your hands of it. It s an ongoing relationship.

Up your iPad skills

And do amazing things! Did you receive an iPad for Christmas? Are you still wondering how it works? iSenior, a four-week iPad-based course, helps the 40 to 50 iPad owners at Seabrook, an Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J., get comfortable with their portable computer, stay technologically savvy, and stay connected. The hands-on course covers iPad anatomy, battery life, settings, WiFi and hot spots, apps, social networking, pictures, email, accessories, and tips and shortcuts. Instructor Travis Tanay uses PowerPoint and his own iPad to lead students through each class. And a peer assistant gives encouragement and hands-on support. The community itself is wired with WiFi and hotspots throughout the two clubhouses, and each apartment home has Internet.