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Career changer finds rewarding new path

By JOHN WALKER - jwalker@shelbynews.com

After meeting this one particular job candidate about three years ago, it didn’t take long for Dianna Pandak, then head of Shelby Senior Services, to know she had a winner.

“I was thrilled with her story. I had heard what a work ethic she had,” said Pandak, who hired Ralanda Smallfelt as the organization’s coordinator of Family Caregiver Services.

And that dedication to serving the clientele of Senior Services has earned Smallfelt the Golden Pineapple Award for Customer Service.

Presented by the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce, the Golden Pineapple Award is given to those who are, “helpful, hard working and self-motivated.”

However, working with seniors was not Smallfelt’s first career choice. She graduated from the University of Indianapolis with a degree in computer science and was a systems analyst for 26 years.

Then something happened several years ago that set her on a new course.

Her husband had to take medication by self-injection, and on a trip to the drug store to get the syringes he used, she learned the price for them was $6 each.

Smallfelt knew the syringes only cost about 25 cents apiece to produce.

“That’s what did it,” she said.

Galled by the experience, Smallfelt decided to dedicate herself to helping others.

So she went back to school at the University of Indianapolis where she earned a master’s degree in gerontology – the study of aging.

That’s also where she learned about Shelby Senior Services.

“I actually studied this place when I was getting my master’s degree,” said Smallfelt.

While studying Senior Services for her schoolwork, she also discovered something she hadn’t expected.

“I wanted to be here,” Smallfelt said. “I just didn’t realize at the time I’d get here.”

After graduating with her new degree, a friend told her that Senior Services was looking for a coordinator of Family Caregiver Services.

That’s the position she holds now.

In that job, Smallfelt advises clientele about issues such as helping an aging family member.

She also is responsible for starting the Music & Memory program at Senior Services.

Music & Memory uses familiar songs to reach people with Alzheimer’s disease; studies have shown it to be remarkably successful, and Smallfelt got certified to run the program.

She’s looking for donations of good, used iPods with cords and chargers, as well as gift cards for iTunes to cover the cost of downloading songs.

Smallfelt is also president of the Shelby County Council on Aging and, just this year, became a board member of FUSE, which is Families United for Support and Encouragement. She volunteers with several other groups.

“I’ve always had a compassion for older people,” she said, recalling her grandparents. “They had so many cool stories.”

The Chamber Awards will be presented at the organization’s annual dinner on March 1.

2018 Chamber Awards Gala

When: March 1

Where: Indiana Grand Racing and Casino’s Race Course Clubhouse

What: A celebration of businesses and individuals who exemplify the true spirit of Shelby County

Awards: The Shelby County Chamber of Commerce will present 10 awards at the gala: Large Business Champion, Small Business Champion, Non-Profit Champion, “Dick Kitchin” Volunteer of the Year, Shelby County Community Lifetime Achievement, “John A. Hartnett, Sr.” Business Person of the Year, Golden Pineapple Customer Service Award, Golden Apple Outstanding Educator, Pay It Forward Award, and Outstanding Citizen of the Year.

The Large Business Champion, Small Business Champion and Non-Profit Champion winners will be announced at the gala event. The other seven award recipients have already been announced by the chamber of commerce. The Shelbyville News will feature each of the individual award winners over the next several editions as well as preview the nominees for the three business awards.