Every month we invite one of our team members to sit down with us and tell us more about their journey to Elder Care Alliance, their role now, and their insights into older adult care. We are excited to share the expertise and knowledge of our many team members who every day come to work and help our residents live their best lives today with us.
Today we welcome Freddie Thomas, Spiritual Care Director at AlmaVia of San Francisco.
Us: Hi, Freddie. Tell us a little about your background and role at Elder Care Alliance.
Freddie: For the past 30 years, I have been a spiritual care provider in various capacities in India and the United States. As a young adult, my month-long encounter with Mother Teresa of Calcutta inspired and shaped the initial years of my ministry. Witnessing her care and self-sacrificing commitment to serving the poorest moved me to identify myself with the poor, low-caste people of Jhundan Mission in Punjab, India. I lived with and served them for nine years. During that time, I founded and pastored St. Thomas Catholic Church and Little Flower Convent School & Parish in the Sangrur district of Punjab.
In 2008, I completed a Master’s in Theology (Licentiate in Sacred Scripture) from the Urbanian University in Rome. Then I returned to Jalandhar, India, to serve as a professor of Sacred Scripture at Holy Trinity Major Seminary. Here in the United States, while serving as a hospital chaplain for John Muir Health in Walnut Creek, I completed a second Master’s in Theology (Th.M.) from the Jesuit School of Theology (JST) in 2016.
I have been the Spiritual Care Director at AlmaVia of San Francisco for the past six years. In support of my work, I am pursuing a Doctorate in Pastoral Care and Counseling from San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo. My experience with elders here prompted my research topic: “Trauma-informed Spiritual Care in a Relational Framework for the Older Adult.”
Us: How does your work benefit residents at Elder Care Alliance communities?
Freddie: As Spiritual Care Director, I respect the dignity, individuality and uniqueness of each resident and team member. I relate with our residents, their families, and team members with genuine care to nurture their holistic wellness and personal growth. I believe a relationship of respect and trust is the foundation of spiritual and emotional care. All my activities with residents, families, and team members are built on this trusting relationship. I provide a caring and compassionate presence to all our residents, especially those hospitalized, in hospice care, room-bound, and at the end of life.
Us: Tell us more about a specific feature of your job/duties and what residents can expect to gain from that.
Freddie: I provide spiritual care to all our residents with a holistic approach that welcomes all. Bible study, Sadhana Yoga and Meditation, the men’s group, and storytelling sessions are some of the most attended programs by our residents. I engage with residents in Bible study to appreciate their faith, grow their knowledge, and build their intellectual curiosity. As part of my duties, I collaborate with the sales department and make myself available for outreach programs.
Us: What is one of your favorite memories/experiences working at Elder Care Alliance?
Freddie: One of my best memories comes from storytelling sessions with our memory care residents at AlmaVia. Week after week, some of our memory care residents shared the same stories, but I would listen to them as if hearing their story for the first time. One resident who loved horses shared stories of her lifelong interactions with horses: she went to school on horseback, went to work on a horse, and went to Ocean Beach every evening on a horse. Even the stable was next to her bedroom! Her last horse, her best buddy in retired life, was a red stallion named “Long Jump,” whose image was firmly imprinted in her mind. Even as her memory fails, her emotional connection with Long Jump remains ever-present. So in moments when she becomes agitated, I whisper “Long Jump” in her ears. She looks at me, and just the name of her buddy calms her, brings a smile, and brightens her face. I always cherish that smile in my heart.
Us: What is the greatest reward that your role at Elder Care Alliance brings?
Freddie: In many of our interactions, our residents have surprised me, and I surprise them, too. As I care for the many distinguished residents of AlmaVia, I am privileged to learn their stories and how their life cycles are playing out in real time. It has been a privilege to care for our residents at the end of life and to conduct memorial services in our community to honor them. The genuine love and care between residents and staff are visible in those memorial services.
Us: Can you share any insights into new programs/menus/etc. you are planning for the future?
Freddie: In a recent men’s club gathering, we discussed the possibility of visiting various churches and the synagogue on the Brotherhood Way. Our residents are very enthusiastic about the proposal. We will visit Dolores Church, Grace Cathedral, and the Porziuncola and learn the history of the early California Missions.
We plan to spend time with the poor and homeless people of San Francisco. Visiting St. Antony’s Foundation and the Faithful Fools Street Ministry are on our agenda.