Conny Gordeau was nearly 30 years old when she moved from the Netherlands to the United States almost three decades ago. At the time, she didn’t speak a word of English. Now, she is spreading compassion throughout Central Valley, California as a Senior Helpers franchise owner.
Gordeau started working in the health and fitness industry soon after arriving to the U.S., a country she fell in love with while visiting a family friend, saying that there’s “no better place in the world.” She describes starting from the bottom—teaching aerobics classes at Bally Total Fitness—and working her way up to area regional manager, supervising the operations of up to 50 locations. When the company went out of business after 25 years, Gordeau did some soul searching.
“I had to do something I was passionate about, and something that I thought I could do and would be good at,” said Gordeau. She says her two passions in life are dogs and caring for older adults. Her own mother had been sick, and as her sister took on the caretaker role, she came to understand the need for extra help at home—not just for seniors, but also for families.
“I always wanted to start my own business, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. That’s where Senior Helpers really helped me out a lot,” said Gordeau. She had several phone calls with Rob Cantrell, Vice President of Franchising Development, to hash things out and learn more about the brand. With this support, she became sure it was a great fit.
At first, Gordeau questioned whether she’d be able to pull it off. “We have all helped seniors. But to really take care of seniors, it takes a lot of knowledge. I knew I had a passion for it, I knew I had the heart for it, but with the training and support I got from them, I was really able to do what I do now every day.”
When it comes to being a business owner, Gordeau’s previous experience in upper management has set her up for success. Her professional experience in recruiting instilled in her the ability to make sure she hires the right people for the job. “It’s the most important part of this industry--hiring people who care,” she said.
She strives to create an environment where her nearly 60 caregivers are happy to come to work. Gordeau says that unemployment is a struggle in the area of Central Valley where her business is based. The majority of the caregivers she employees are single mothers working to provide for their own families.
Gordeau is involved in the community by nature of her work and then some. Her Senior Helpers business works with a local food bank to deliver meals and provide other services as needed. She also partners with the Valley Caregiver Resource Center, providing home care services free of charge so that family members caring for their loved ones can take a break to run errands or do something for themselves. “I’m one of those people that my friends will say, ‘Who did you pick up off the street today?’ Because when it gets dark, and I see an old lady walking by herself, I’ll stop and give her a ride,” she said.
Gordeau defines success as a Senior Helpers owner by the memorable difference she is able to make for both the client and their family. “When you care for someone at the end of their long life, and they pass, and you go to the service and get the program and it says when they were born, when they were married, has photos of their children, and then in the middle of all that, ‘We want to thank Senior Helpers and Conny,’ and their family members and people you’ve never met before are thanking you for what you’ve done? It’s unbelievable,” said Gordeau.
Gordeau credits her success thus far to her inherent ability to relate to people. In a way, she wishes she had started working in senior care decades ago. “Sometimes God takes you on a path and you don’t know which direction you’re going in,” she said. “But with an open mind and an open heart, you get to where you need to be. I think I’m in a place where I’m supposed to be and always were meant to be.”