Knowing she wanted to start a business helping others, Tammy Reiner looked around her community to see what she could offer. What she saw was too many isolated seniors.
A former doula and avid volunteer, Reimer says she has always felt a calling to help others. Once her children were older, she started looking around her home in Wilno, a small community about 80 kilometres west of Renfrew, in search of her next compassionate quest.
That’s when she noticed the need for non-medical companionship in the rural and sometimes isolated communities of the Valley.
“I love to help people, so I thought, ‘Maybe I should start a business,’” said Reimer. “But I’m not a (personal support worker), so it was tricky to come up with a name.”
In July, everything came together, and Reimer began offering companionship, organization and “decluttering” services under her new business, Valley Angels. So far, with one exception, all of her clients have been seniors.
As the baby boomers of the Valley reach retirement, downsize to smaller homes, face health issues and seek new accommodation, Reimer said she sees seniors becoming isolated in the rural communities and needing a helping hand.
While she has been helping them organize and declutter their homes to prepare for moves or other adjustments to their living circumstances, most of her clients are simply seeking a friendly face and compassionate presence, she said.
As a companion service, Valley Angels offers “life-enhancing tips” and “two bins full” of games, crafts and other activities.
“I’m imagining the winter will be even bigger with seniors living alone,” she said. “Some of the seniors don’t have the opportunity to play cards or games with someone and such great conversations happen.
“I really think they’re valuable services and I love improving the quality of someone’s life,” Reimer continued. “By going to someone’s home, I can help, I can make improvements, and I can make people happy at their home.”
While larger cities like Ottawa and Pembroke might offer similar services, the smaller communities that make up the Ottawa and Madawaska valleys “deserve companionship, too,” she said.
In the spring, Reimer took part in Enterprise Renfrew County’s Starter Company Plus Program and received a grant to help boost Valley Angels, which she said was an “invaluable” experience.
Heather Inwood-Montrose, small business advisor with Enterprise Renfrew County, said Reimer’s business concept “evolved” during the program to create the “valuable social engagement services” that are now offered.
“Valley Angels provides families and individuals with peace of mind knowing their loved ones have options for care in addition to traditional social and health services for seniors and older adults,” added Inwood-Montrose.
Reimer said the “intense” program pushed her to create a cohesive business plan that now includes increased advertising and the possibility of working with other organizations to complement her services.
Any additional funding in the future could also help make the services more affordable and accessible for clients, which Reimer said is a huge priority, along with adding more members to her team.
Ultimately, Reimer said she “hopes that anyone who wants this kind of service can get it.” Additional team members could make sure every small community in the area can be serviced “with open arms and open hearts,” as the Valley Angels mission statement says.
Valley Angels doesn’t exclusively serve seniors, having helped clients with medical struggles, mobility issues, disabilities or post-surgery limitations. But Reimer says her heart has always gone out to seniors and her client base just confirms the need for her services.
“I’ve been passionate since I was little about caring for elderly people and I want to see them being cared for in the ways that I can do,” Reimer said. “I want them to feel honoured and loved, to be respected and listened to.
“Above all else, I love hearing their stories, and their pasts, and taking the time to listen to them is so important. It’s invaluable.”