ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "I've learned as much from MaryAnn and the illness of dementia and Alzheimer's as she has from me," said Paula Perez.
Perez, a Bethlehem native, learned how to have patience and compassion when taking care of her mother and grandchild. Her love for others also shone when she worked as a crossing guard for school students.
But she found her true calling when responding to an advertisement for Visiting Angels in Bethlehem and Northampton. It started as a part-time job, but soon became her full-time passion.
One patient who changed her life is MaryAnn Ofchus of Bethlehem. Ofchus worked as a receptionist at a dental office and has been married to her husband for 59 years. But the last few have proved challenging after showing signs of dementia.
That's when Perez and Ofchus' paths crossed.
"Visiting Angels gives us a care plan to take care of her, but MaryAnn does not like to stay home," said Perez. "Taking her to places she used to go, activities, pictures she used to do, songs, it's like therapy for her."
Between singing in the car and stopping at Ritz Barbecue for lunch, the two ladies have become more like best friends. Ofchus' daughter, Denise Force, has seen the difference.
"Paula just brings her back to that age when she was carefree and loving and she's not anxious the way she used to be when she was home by herself," said Force.
This year, Perez's dedication to her job spurred a nomination to Visiting Angels' "Caregiver of the Year" award. To her surprise, she was chosen among caregivers from hundreds of franchises nationwide and was given a $5,000 check.
"I'm just the tip of the iceberg because you guys recognized me, but it's the whole group of us," said Perez. "MaryAnn and her family, my family, my co-workers, caring and respecting the dignity of life that the person can have."
To learn more about Visiting Angels, visit their website.