From an original article by SGT 1st Class Matthew Keeler, Pennsylvania National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil on June 1, 2020.
STROUDSBURG, Pa. – Joseph Sapienza, director of maintenance/life safety for Pleasant Valley Manor nursing home, recently received word that someone very familiar to him would be coming to work at the home.
His son, SGT Alec Sapienza, a combat medic with the 108th Medical Area Support Company, 213th Regional Support Group, was part of a Pennsylvania Army National Guard team that would be providing support at Pleasant Valley Manor.
The younger Sapienza had been hoping to surprise his dad.
“I was trying to surprise him, until my mom told him,” said SGT Sapienza, who was happy that his father was getting support from someone that he knew. “It made him a little more comfortable with the people that he is working with because I knew them as well, personally, most of my military career.”
The Soldiers and Airmen from the Pennsylvania National Guard, in support of Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, have been working in nursing homes and long-term care facilities to aid staff during the COVID-19 situation. Pleasant Valley Manor is one of several that Soldiers and Airmen from Pennsylvania Task Force North have helped with during this time.
SGT Sapienza, having come off support to Gracedale Nursing Home in Nazareth, volunteered to assist with another mission – before he knew where it was.
“I learned roughly two to three days ago,” SGT Sapienza said about being contacted to support another mission. “I had a grievous [situation] in my family – the death of my grandfather – and I realized that I still wanted to keep helping the best that I can.”
SGT Sapienza found out that next mission was going to be Pleasant Valley in an interesting way.
“Captain Vu told me that he needed help in a location. Once he informed me that he knew a man named Joseph Sapienza, he asked me if we were related. I said, ‘Yeah, I might know him,’” said SGT Sapienza.
To SGT Sapienza, the importance of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard supporting nursing homes and long-term care facilities cannot be understated.
“After working with Gracedale, I had extra incentive to volunteer to help with another nursing home,” he said. “The experience was changing. It was definitely an eye-opening experience, especially being a pandemic like we are in right now, about how important it is that we are doing these types of missions.”
The speed is similar to Gracedale, SGT Sapienza said, as the medical professionals from the Army National Guard and the staff of Pleasant Valley worked to understand each other’s capabilities.
“Communication is always going to be the biggest factor, especially when it comes to a new environment with people who do not know you,” said SGT Sapienza. “So, it was helpful for us all to sit down and have a conversation for about 5 to 10 minutes about what we can and can’t do.”
For Joseph, it was a moment of pride for him to see the kind of professional that his son has become.
“It is a pleasure for me, because it is an honor because he is my son and I’m seeing him do things that he told me that he did in action,” Joseph said. “It is a great feeling. I could not tell you how proud I am of him – of him and the entire military.”
Joseph, who handles the boiler and building maintenance, also works in customer relations to make sure residents are happy. He said they have been enjoying the Army National Guard Soldiers at Pleasant Valley Manor.
“I feel the feedback has been great,” he said. “I had residents tell me, ‘They were so nice, and it is a pleasure having them.’ And it was really nice to see that they really, really appreciated it.”
For SGT Sapienza, who has visited Pleasant Valley Manor in the past as a volunteer, returning in uniform was different.
“I finally felt like I was helping,” he said. “When I first came here, I was just talking to people, seeing what they were like – there are many veterans here as well – so it kind of helped you build up that rapport with those people. But, by finally coming here and being able to do something with some jurisdiction, it was a very heartfelt moment.”
Many of the troops from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard are taking the opportunity to assist with the residents at these locations as reasons to continue their medical education, said SGT Sapienza.
“Most of us have been talking about taking our Medical College Admission Test, or even going to physician assistant school and becoming a doctor,” he said. “Coming from Gracedale, a lot of folks are already in school, nursing school, or trying to get into ‘med’ school.”
The Soldiers are supporting Pleasant Valley Manor for a limited time, but this opportunity will never be lost on Joseph.
“He’s doing a great job and I’m not just saying that because I’m his father – I’m the biggest critic, and he’ll tell you this. If you are not doing it right, then I’m going to tell you, I do not hold back [any] punches,” said Joseph. “I’m just so proud of him.”
If you want to make a difference and serve your community, join the Army National Guard, where you’ll serve part-time, get tuition benefits and receive training in one of more than 130 careers in fields like Supply and Logistics, Heavy Weapons, Ground Forces, and Transportation. For details on any MOS, search our job board, and contact your local recruiter for more information.