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Last Christmas, Millie Perich wrapped 300 gifts she’d made or purchased with her own money for guests of a homeless shelter. By herself. While the new resident of Monarch Landing senior living community in Naperville could rightfully be called Santa Claus at Hesed House, the second largest homeless shelter in Illinois, she is known among staff and guests there as “Nurse Millie.”

Almost three years ago, the retired nurse with 48 years of professional experience (including 16 in the E.R. and 24 at the Joint Commission accrediting health care organizations) saw a need for her skills when the shelter had to eliminate its medical personnel due to budget cuts.

Beginning as a volunteer in Hesed House’s store, Millie approached staff about serving guests in a volunteer nursing capacity. “I am still a licensed nurse, and I could utilize my skills and fill a need,” said Perich. It seemed like a win-win for everyone.”
Hesed House agreed, and Millie set to providing guests with vitamins and cough drops she purchased in bulk, blood pressure checks, minor wound care, help deciphering medical paperwork and, most of all, a friendly face and caring heart.

“It’s the little things that can make a difference,” said Perich of the assistance she provides with administrative approval and her own watchful eye on proper dosing. Over several months of weekly Thursday evening visits, Perich has noticed that these “small steps” have reduced the amount of coughing in the shelter and helped keep blood pressure in check, among other improvements. Recently, she replaced every salt and pepper shaker at Hesed House with a flavorful, salt-free seasoning blend.

“I really feel this is what I’m meant to be doing,” she said. “I don’t know who gets more out of it, me or the guests. In all my years of nursing, I’ve never seen the level of gratitude that I get from the people at Hesed House.”

Perich’s volunteer spirit goes far beyond vitamins and cough drops. Now in its third year, the Christmas program she established ensures that every guest gets a wrapped gift and that all the children receive a stocking. As soon as the holidays are over, Perich starts the hunt for gift items for the following year and sprints into marathon needlework, making a scarf per night.

Typically, men receive gloves and hats (“It’s so important for men to cover their heads in the winter,” she remarked), and women receive jewelry, cologne and the scarves fellow Monarch Landing residents are now helping her crochet.

The desire to serve others is not new for “Nurse Millie,” who was a candy striper as a child. She has also assisted the Joint Commission in multiple volunteer community service projects, the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger food drive, and Feed My Starving Children, most recently with other residents of Monarch Landing. “We packed 20 boxes of food in just two hours. The kids at the table next to us only packed about four!” she said.

Next on Perich’s agenda is to apply for volunteer service with the American Red Cross. “People ask me if all I do is too much work, but it makes my heart smile!”

Intent on continuing to be who she is, but also grow in her retirement, the former Aurora resident believes she landed at the ideal place to live five months ago. “Nothing compares to Monarch Landing. People are kind and happy here, always looking for new opportunities. I share and embrace that, too.”

Read article in the Chicago Tribune