Debbie Cembrano is more than a caretaker for San Dimas resident Dolores Vilardo; she’s her friend, her angel, her holiday elf, and the reason Vilardo can once again enjoy Christmas.

Cembrano first met Vilardo about 18 months ago when the duo was paired through Synergy, an Upland-based non-medical home care service. Vilardo had just survived a severe brain infection.

Vilardo, 79, had been an active, vibrant senior, who cared for herself and her daughter Carol, born with cerebral palsy.

All that changed when infection from an abscessed tooth traveled to Vilardo’s brain requiring emergency brain surgery. Vilardo survived, but was left with irreparable damage that robbed her of many abilities she used to enjoy — including her independence.

“I can’t drive anymore,” Vilardo said. “I can’t remember things and have a hard time speaking; finding the words.”

Cembrano was hired to do some housekeeping, cooking and taking Vilardo to various appointments, but it’s those things that Cembrano does from the heart that has bonded these two kindred spirits.

“I love Christmas,” Vilardo said. “Cembrano helped me make my list and go Christmas shopping. She decorated the tree and has taken me and my daughter Carol to concerts — on her own time.”

Synergy calls their holiday helpers Elders’ Elves and encourages these “elves” to help seniors with such seasonal tasks as shopping for gifts, wrapping gifts decorating the home, cooking holiday meals and writing and sending holiday cards.

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