Juggling three jobs and four children, Davis Gonnella considers his work as an SDS-employed Personal Assistant an extension of what he does all day, every day.
Catch Davis Gonnella at the weekend and you’ll find him working behind the bar at the local pub. Midweek, he’ll be teaching guitar across the community on a freelance basis. Come Friday, he’ll be wearing an altogether different hat, working as a Personal Assistant (PA) for a client of Cornerstone SDS.
Varied though Davis’s working week may seem, whether it’s hospitality or tuition, he points to a common thread running through his entire career to date: a passion for helping others. And so it was that he applied for his first ever job in care, working for a retired academic, accompanying him once a week to a library in Aberdeen where he could spend the day reading and researching.
“I wasn’t actually seeking out a care job to begin with,” admits Davis, who at the time was getting back into work after paternity leave, and who had recently had to liquidate the music business he and his wife ran due to the cost of living crisis. But as a father of four, Davis realised that working as a PA would ultimately be an extension of what he does all day, every day. “My youngest is 16 months old,” he says. “She’s got different problems and requirements that my eldest – seven – doesn’t have. Similarly, he’s got problems that a 16-month-old doesn’t have.”
“At times, I forget I'm being paid to be there. It just feels like I'm helping out a friend or an uncle.”
Furthermore, Davis – himself a student with wide-ranging academic interests – was an ideal candidate for the job. “It sounded like the perfect way to end the week,” he says. “Going to the library, taking Peter out for lunch, going back to the library for the rest of the afternoon. I didn’t have to think hard before applying, because I love speaking to people, getting to know them, helping them – and it was clear from the job description that I’d have the opportunity to do all of this with Peter, in addition to pursuing my own studies.”
Just a few months into the job, Davis says it’s already surpassed his expectations – not least in the working relationship he’s built up with Peter. “It’s quite selfish, but I look forward to my Fridays. In the morning, Peter’s deep in study, but at lunchtime I see him take a break from that character and get to see the charm in him when he asks me how my day is going, or what I’ve got planned for the weekend. At times, I forget I’m being paid to be there. It just feels like I’m helping out a friend or an uncle.”
Similarly, Davis already feels a strong professional connection with Peter’s wife, June. Keeping a journal, Davis shares with her his accounts of how Peter’s day has gone each Friday – and before he’s back to his own home and family, June has invariably replied. “I once mentioned that I was travelling down south to attend a music gig,” says Davis. “The following week, June remembered everything. She even watched some of the gig along with us on television! It provided for such fine conversation.”
“I’ve had rewarding jobs in the past, but none more so than this.”
Looking ahead, Davis hopes he’ll be working with Peter and June for years to come. Juggling three jobs, he’s conscious of the fact that not everyone necessarily has money to spend at the pub at the moment, or on whisky, or guitar lessons – but his new job in care is different. “Given the nature of Peter’s condition, things may well become harder and more involved. It’s going to be difficult watching Peter deteriorate, and that’s the bit I’m not looking forward to, but seeing past it, I’m not going to be bothered because I’ll know I’m still helping out.
“I’ve had rewarding jobs in the past, but none more so than this. If you end up with the same level of support that I do, then it’s just fantastic. June’s already mentioned that she feels this is the start of a very long, healthy partnership.”
What June says...
“The plan was designed to give me a bit of a break, but I wanted any arrangement to be a positive experience for my husband too, and hoped he’d find validation in spending regular time in a familiar, comforting setting related to his academic career. I imagined we just needed to find a person who could drive a car, and keep a vague eye on my husband throughout the day. What I didn't expect was that we’d get, in Davis, not only the safest pair of safe hands but someone so completely committed to making these days the best that they possibly can be. My husband gains great pleasure from talking to someone about his literary interests, showing him the books he’s written, and they share lots of cheery conversations, from Charles Dickens to the Foo Fighters, learning from each other and widening each other’s horizons.
“I know that Davis responds to occasionally unpredictable and difficult situations with tact, sensitivity, and constant concern for my husband’s dignity. I was struck, when he came for the interview, by his anxiety to make clear he’d no qualifications in relation to caring for people with Alzheimer’s. Well, me neither, yet here I am. A lack of qualifications feels a lot less relevant than empathy, kindness and resourcefulness.
“I don’t say this lightly, but for me, Davis is a lifeline. Our family all live some distance away, and I’ve no-one really observing Peter’s day-to-day behaviours, or noting any changes. It’s been a lonely business. Davis came up with the idea of sending me a weekly diary of their outings, and I find these incredibly reassuring. He emails with thoughts and practical suggestions. I would have settled for a lot less, but in Davis we could not ask for more.”