The two Saylorsburg women share a driveway and much more. Although nurses June Roberts and Caroline Gillenkirk’s differences are vast, they have become fast friends.
Roberts, 52, was born in South America and lived for years in the Caribbean islands before coming to the States.
Gillenkirk, 27, is from Chester County, Pa., just a two-hour drive from the Poconos.
What unites them is their shared passion for their caring profession: they’re both nurses at St. Luke’s Monroe Campus.
They met three years ago in the driveway that divides their property. What started as the symbolic “fence” that new neighbors often straddle as they get to know one another has become a shared patch of common ground.
Roberts works days as a care manager, making sure patients have the needed support services and a safe place to go when they’re discharged from the hospital.
Gillenkirk is a bedside nurse and night shift supervisor, treating stroke victims and heart patients, who are often among the sickest of the sick. She cries when a patient dies and celebrates each time one walks out of the unit healthier than before.
Roberts has been in nursing for 31 years; longer than her young neighbor has been alive. Her first job at a hospital in New York was preparing cancer patients for bone marrow transplants. Gillenkirk is celebrating her five-year anniversary at the hospital, doing what she’s always known she was meant to do.
“We have a wonderful relationship,” said the gregarious Roberts.
“June is a very good friend of mine,” said Gillenkirk. “She’s almost like a second mother.”
Roberts lives in a big farmhouse with her husband and children. Gillenkirk rents the small cottage next door.
Roberts has taken on the unofficial role of mentor to her young neighbor. She texts Gillenkirk almost daily, often including an inspirational message, joke, prayer or nursing meme as the young nurse prepares for work. “You got this!” is one of her favorite messages of support.
“I encourage her in her work, tell her to make sure something passes the ‘sniff’ test and go with her gut,” said Roberts. She recalled her mentor in nursing school, who offered the same help during Roberts’ early years when she was adjusting to the rigors of the new job. She’s also a mentor for St. Luke’s student nurses, “showing them a different facet of nursing,” she said.
Though she’s admittedly “on the tail end of her career,” Roberts wants to help her young friend excel and carry on the passion for caring shared by so many in their profession.
Gillenkirk has embraced this calling; something she said she learned from her mother, who is also a nurse. Together they took care of her grandfather as he suffered and later succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.
She has earned two St. Luke’s awards in the past year: one for demonstrating the organization’s guiding principles, and the other for nursing excellence.
“She’s good people,” said Roberts, with a note of pride in her voice. “I see a lot of my younger self in her. She’s a go-getter.”
Gillenkirk, too, is paying it forward, mentoring new nurses at St. Luke’s, offering them advice and perspective, and cheering them on, much like her seasoned neighbor did for her. “I’d love to feel like I’m having the same impact on them as June is on me,” she said, adding that she’s aspiring to stick with nursing for at least 30 years, like Roberts has done.
And though they may only see each other occasionally coming or going in the driveway, or working in the yard, they keep in touch, nurturing their friendship through the convenience of modern digital devices.
Despite their dissimilar beginnings, they’re carrying on an honored tradition that welcomes diversity and values caring for others ahead of caring about differences.
“We’re both nurses,” said Roberts. “And nurses stick together.”
Note: This local health news is brought to you in partnership with St. Luke’s University Health Network.