Profile: Natalie Franks, Activities and nutrition supervisor, Acacia Adult Day Services

Natalie Franks and her grandfather. (Lauren M. Whaley/Center for Health Reporting)


Eight years ago Natalie Franks answered a PennySavers ad for a kitchen coordinator at Acacia Adult Day Services. She thought the center, located on the same street as her house, sounded like an interesting and convenient place to work.

Franks, 36, is now the Activities and Food Supervisor at the center, and life there is even more meaningful than she  imagined. The elderly population she serves now includes her grandfather Manuel Lopez Ornelas Jr., 83, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

At Franks’ urging, her grandmother Hortensia Ornelas, joined a support group at the center for caregivers in 2013.

Later that year, Hortensia enrolled her husband of 62 years in the day program for three days a week so she could have time to go to lunch with her daughter, make doctors’ appointments and go grocery shopping. 

Together they have six kids, 34 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren.

“I just commend her for her strength and courage to go through this journey with her husband, her soulmate to the very end,” Franks said.

Franks is the only staff member with a relative at the center and she is grateful for the time she gets with her grandfather. Like other participants, he gets breakfast and lunch, some therapy, and social engagement, like singing and dancing.

His disease has progressed to mid- to late-stage, Franks said. His expression is blank most of the time, except when he hears music. Then, he lights up.

“Not everybody’s as lucky as I am to see my grandfather three times a week,” she said. “His long term emotions are still intact. You can’t break family bonds with this disease. It’s kind of amazing that I get to have that experience.”

He doesn’t recognize his granddaughter, but she said he gravitates toward her.

“He will seek me out with a big smile and just ask me, ‘do you know, is my ride coming?’ I’ll say, ‘your ride will be here shortly,’” she said. “‘Don’t worry Manny, we’re here for you.’”


Lauren M. Whaley is a journalist for the Center for Health Reporting at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics at the University of Southern California. The center receives support from the Gary and Mary West Foundation to report on senior issues.

More Stories from This Project

Garden Grove nurses' house calls program helps seniors prolong independence

GARDEN GROVE — Kelly Baik plopped two large plastic Tupperware containers in front of Nelson Tran and Loan Nguyen, who were seated at the kitchen island. Baik opened one, picked out an amber-colored bottle and rattled it.

Profile: Mallory Vega, Executive Director, Acacia Adult Day Services

“With the demographics that we were seeing, we felt that it was a program that would go on forever,” Vega said. “People were starting to say, ‘Hark! The boomers are coming, the boomers are coming.’”

Profile: Steve Pearson and Zelda, Caregivers, Acacia Adult Day Services

“She is such a loving dog,” Pearson said. “I tried to give her treats to get her to do something, didn’t work. Gave her a hug and a rub, told her you loved her, and she’d do anything.”


Other Articles

Stress case: What’s behind the increased demand for mental health counseling from SoCal college students?

On February 7, author Claudia Boyd-Barrett appeared on Southern California Public Radio's Air Talk with Larry Mantle to discuss her project about...

At some schools, mental health battle includes the Bible

This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register. All kinds of colleges are dealing with unprecedented student demand for mental health...

California colleges, like USC, are in the midst of a mental health care crisis. Can help come fast enough?

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News. “Are you actually going to kill yourself?” Sociology Professor...
  • 1 of 254

Other Audio

Lauren M. Whaley

Freelance journalist Lauren M. Whaley is a photographer, radio producer and print reporter specializing in topics related to mental illness, reproductive health care and health disparities. She is also a childbirth photographer.This year, She is working on a series about how low-income parents access care for perinatal mental illnesses. The project is funded in part by the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism.She was a 2016-17 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.Her work has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Scripps Howard Foundation and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) STEM story project. She has contributed radio, video, photography and written stories to KQED Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, the San Jose Mercury News, the New York Times and other media outlets. For six years, she worked as the Center for Health Reporting's multimedia journalist. She is a past president of the national organizationJournalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) and spent her early 20s leading canoe expeditions for young women, including a solo-led 45-trip in the Canadian Arctic. She is based in Los Angeles.

© 2019 Center for Health Reporting