Senior-Care Corrdinator Gets Wild on the Weekends.
By Melanie McGee Bianchi
Photo by Candice Maliska
Fresh off her day job, Michelle Helms meets VERVE dressed in a mauve sweater and an elegant set of pearls. But even the demure attire can’t obscure her knotty core of toughness. It’s there in her angular jaw, and in her watchful eyes.
As Care Service Liaison at Mountain Home Care in Arden, Helms is in charge of matching nurse’s aids to elderly people needing in-home care.
After she ensures a good fit, she hires and trains the caregivers. Home care is a job she once did herself. “I find older adults to be a joy. I love working with them,” says Helms.
“I once cared for a local gentleman who created maps for the D-Day Invasion [in WWII],” she reveals, lifting her eyebrows in amazement.
“I thanked him for my freedom.”
Living free is a big deal for the 39-year-old single mother. And the way to do that, she says, is to be prepared. “That’s very important to me. We can’t count on our infrastructure remaining stable.” In a major national crisis, she predicts, “everything could go south really fast. If there is no hospital, no grocery store, no water, I would like to know how to feed myself, how to hydrate myself, how to fix my own boo-boos.”
To that end, Helms accumulates survival skills like others might gather wildflowers. She’s inspired by hardline outdoorspeople such as Charly Aurelia, who teaches wilderness-survival classes (including the ominously titled “When There is No 911”). Another major mentor is Spencer Bolejack, who runs a Ninja Camp at the base of Cold Mountain in Haywood County. Attending with her son Oscar, 10, Helms has learned martial arts, foraging, land navigation, and stealth tactics.
“My love of the wilderness is truly lifelong,” says the North Carolina native, who grew up fishing and crabbing at her grandmother’s place in the rural hamlet of Arapahoe, where the Neuse River meets Pamlico Sound. Today, Helms gets her chicken dinner the hard way, wringing the necks of live fowl before she skins and dresses them. This month, she’ll test out a newly acquired hunting license.
Her latest passion is hammock camping. Eschewing tents, hammockers on extended backpacking trips find two likely trees each night and string up their beds. (Helms is fond of five-day forays on the Art Loeb Trail, near the Shining Rock Wilderness.) Oscar has a passion for archery and “wants to be a vigilante when he grows up,” she says with a laugh.
Off the grid, potential dangers lurk in every scenic shadow. Back in the office, the challenges are also constant, but more defined. The main stress at work, says Helms, is balancing the caregiver-patient ratio.
“We want to keep our seniors in the best care situations, and sometimes we can’t find enough good hires,” she explains. Because losing patients is a sad but natural part of elderly care, the opposite situation also occurs: too many caregivers for the client base.
Helms loves her seniors and appreciates her employees. But when she feels like being nurtured herself, she leans on creek, rock, and sky.
“So much of what I do is about pleasing people. But I have to recharge my batteries to be able to keep doing that. That’s when I go to the woods.”