On July 26, 2022, Kawsu ‘KK’ Kajake stood with happy tears in his eyes to accept the award for Care & Wellness Services from the Massachusetts Assisted Living Association. Heading to the stage surrounded by an audience giving him a standing ovation it was clear that the moment meant so much to KK, but it was not until being able to talk with him that we learned just why the award is so special to him.
His humble nature means that KK does not get much recognition for the amazing work he does. Laurelwood at The Pinehills Executive Director, Sue McKenna, and Resident Care Director, Jeannine Clark, knew they had to find a way to change that. Having witnessed the wonderful work he does not only for the residents of the community but also for the people in his village Sue and Jeannine knew that KK deserved to be recognized for the amazing human that he is and nominated him for the Care & Wellness Services Award. This award goes to an associate caregiver (RN, LPN, CNA, PCA) who works directly with residents to ensure quality of life for all seniors through compassionate, excellent care above and beyond the call of duty.
KK may have won the award for the phenomenal care he provides for our residents, but it is his giving nature and amazing story that moved the whole crowd and resulted in a standing ovation.
Learn about the start of KK’s desire to care for others
To understand why KK is so generous with everything he has you have to know about the most important person in his life, his grandmother. She took care of him when he was a child and together, they worked to do whatever they could to help others in their village, a small Village in Gambia. When his grandmother got sick, KK saw that the hospital was not taking care of her like they should and learned how to care for her himself. He studied with the nurses and CNAs for six months and was able to take care of his grandmother as she passed away. During the last few conversations KK had with his grandmother, she asked him to continue the work that she was doing helping others in the village. KK didn’t think he could do as much as she did but told her he would try his best. When reflecting on his desire to continue to give back to the people of his village KK shares, “It all started with my grandmother, she loved to help people. I learned how to give back from her.”
In honor of his grandmother, KK has worked multiple jobs to be able to give back to the people of his village. Whenever he learns about a need, he does whatever he can to help. He continuously collects gently used clothes for women and children along with walkers and wheelchairs and stores them in a shipping container to send back. His village does not have electricity; while travelling KK discovered solar lights and paid to have them installed in his village. This allowed for kids to stay out after dark to play. He still has the video of the children dancing under the streetlights. The last time he was home he realized there was a need for a reliable way to get women and children to the closest hospital and started his search for an ambulance. He was able to purchase a used ambulance and ship it back to his village. KK says that what the people of his village need most right now is food, so he sends money home that is used to buy cooking oil and large bags of rice to distribute to those in need.
KK will admit he does not do what he does for recognition. All he cares about is being able to see the joy on people’s faces when he can help them in some way. KK shared that on his most recent trip home he went with his cousin in the middle of the night to deliver bags of rice to the doors of those in need. KK shared, “they would start shouting and dancing and I hid watching with tears running down my face. Those things are what make me very happy. When I see families that I am helping have a good life it makes me so happy.”
In addition to all the work he does to help people in his village, he also gives his whole heart to caring for the residents at Laurelwood at The Pinehills. His favorite part about working in senior living is working with people from past generations. He says, “you are the person to help the resident have a full happy day. I choose to transform myself into their life to make sure they are comfortable, talk to them, comfort them, console them, sit with them, hold their hand, those are the things that make me happy. Getting a thank you and appreciation from residents means a lot. I speak multiple languages and could find other jobs, but this is what I love, the seniors, helping seniors.”
When KK moved to the United States in 2017, he had a tough time adjusting. It was not until he met and started working with Sue McKenna and Jeannine Clark that he started to feel at home. KK shares, “I am so grateful for Jeannine and Sue, when I moved here my first 6 months, I was not liking it. It was very hard for me but the way Jeannine and Sue brought me in, showed me things, never rushed me. My English was terrible, but they always did the trainings, never looked down on anyone and welcomed everyone with open arms.” KK loves working with Jeanine and Sue because he has watched the way they care for seniors and how they lead by example, serving food and sitting and talking with the residents. KK says, “I like working with people who put value in people’s life.”
The tears in KK’s eyes as he accepted the award were in part because he was overwhelmed but also because he shared, “When I started hearing my story being read my mind just went to my grandmother and the advice she gave me, ‘If you treat people the way you treated me you will have a peaceful life.’ That moment it just hit me and I cannot control my tears.” KK once told his grandmother he was not sure if he would be able to do as much as she did, but winning this award was a big accomplishment. KK said, “I do not do it for people to see, that is not why I do things, it is not why I care. I do my care from my heart, and I believe that whenever you do good, good will follow.”
We knew that someone as passionate, giving, and ambitious as KK would be thinking of what he could do next to help his village. He shared that the fence around the community garden where they grow all the vegetables recently collapsed and now animals are getting into the harvest so there are less crops. He is working to raise money to get a new fence installed around the garden.
KK does not make much of his work public knowledge and we are grateful to get the chance to talk with him and give just a little recognition for the amazing work he has done and will continue to do. KK works so hard providing for others and caring for our residents, he shared that he sees his grandmother in every resident that he cares for and puts his whole heart into his work. Something that was very apparent as he walked onstage to collect his award in front of an emotional audience. Another recent accomplishment for KK happened just the day before he talked with us for this interview, he shared that he had passed his interview and had become an American citizen.
We could not be prouder that KK is part of the Northbridge family.
If you are interested in donating gently used women’s clothing to KK’s village please contact Laurelwood at The Pinehills at 508.927.6346 or at 10 Golf Drive in Plymouth, MA.
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As a New England senior living company, we pride ourselves in being the local choice for families in need of assisted living or memory care. We look to our teams of associates to truly make our communities home for our residents. Whether that’s a helping hand or a moment to listen to a story, our associates are dedicated and compassionate. With 19 communities in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, we hope you’ll find your home here too. If you already love what you do, and want to love where you work, apply now! We look forward to meeting you.