Helping others begins at home for Arnold businesswoman
Sandy Dunkel was no more than 14 years old in the early 1970s when she strolled along the streets of New Kensington with her grandfather.
One day, her grandfather (who was as tall as he was round, she jokes) stopped to chat with a strange man who asked for money.
Sandy's grandpa handed the man a $20 bill.
“Pap, what are you doing?” she said. “Why did you give him the money?”
“I'll see that money again,” her grandfather, John Roffol, said. “If you do something nice, it always comes back.”
From that day on, Sandy embraced a philosophy of giving: To be generous and give to others, if only to put a smile on their faces — even without an immediate reward for herself.
“It's never about money,” she said. “You can always find another job, but you can't always have another family member. It's hard to find a good friend. You always help when you can help. Because you'll get it back.”
I met Sandy at Care at Home, the business she has operated for 25 years in Arnold.
She runs it from a big brick house along Freeport Road (the one with the gazebo — you can't miss it). The office hub is as charming and warm as Sandy, who started Care at Home as a promise to others after caring for her Uncle Alan.
Alan was her best friend and, as he battled AIDS in the 1990s, she made sure he never lacked the care he needed.
“She swore that she would never let anybody go through what she did, and she would always help every family and always give them her best and 100 percent of herself,” said Jessica Healy, one of Sandy's three adult children.
She was so devoted to Alan that, she admits, she neglected her own family. She was working full time but would find time during the day to drive to Alan's and give him his medication and tend to his personal needs.
“If I didn't do it, who would?” she said, recalling caring for her uncle as a part of her life that will always stay with her.
Sandy had embraced nursing at a young age, when she was a candy-striper at the old Citizens General Hospital in the heart of New Kensington. She wound up going to nursing school there and, before starting her business, spent 12 years working with children with mental illness.
“I believe that God puts you where you need to be,” she told me.
A trusted friend and mentor who was a physician also taught her a lesson that stuck with her: Family comes first.
That's probably why she plans to retire soon, even though at 60 she is hardly of retirement age.
The business will remain open and in Healy's capable hands.
“This business doesn't rest, and I think she kind of needs to rest a little bit,” said Healy, 33, who said 75 percent of their customers find out about Care at Home through word-of-mouth.
They provide everything from personal care, light housekeeping and help with doctor's appointments and medication reminders. “They keep them comfortable in their home as long as possible.”
Sandy Dunkel, who now lives in Lower Burrell, became emotional when she spoke about finding time to take care of her aging parents and in-laws.
“The thing that I probably gave up the most and I feel the need to do most now is take care of my own,” she said. “I feel like I'm OK to go. It's OK to let go.”
Luis Fábregas is editor of the Tribune-Review's Valley News Dispatch edition.