In 1982, Jean Griswold heard a story that changed her life. An elderly woman in her church, overwhelmed by the fear of being alone at night, spent the dark hours awake, anxiously waiting, watching. Without anyone to offer her the personal attention she needed, the woman stopped drinking and died of kidney failure.
The senselessness of the death spurred Griswold—whose husband, Lincoln, was pastor of the church—to start an overnight care service for the elderly, using seminary students as caregivers. What began as a home-based business grew into an international enterprise. Headquartered in Erdenheim, Pa., just north of Philadelphia, Griswold Special Care provides hourly, overnight, or live-in care to patients throughout the United States.
But Griswold is more than a savvy entrepreneur contracting the services of thousands of professional caregivers and managing the multi-million-dollar revenue the business generated last year—a sum she calls “pennies from heaven.” She donates a significant portion of the profits—one year all of them—to the Special Care Foundation, which subsidizes care for those who can’t afford it. And she works long hours, involved with the enterprise every day despite her own struggle with multiple sclerosis, which requires her to rely on a wheelchair for mobility.
Her illness, diagnosed in the 1960s, has little to do with her role as an entrepreneur, she says. Griswold insists she faces only two business-related challenges. “I can’t go out of the office for meetings; people come to see me,” she says. “And I can¨Ìt stand up if someone wants to give me a hug, which they do often.”
Griswold started the business because she saw a need among the elderly, the disabled, and other at-risk individuals to have caregivers assist with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, taking medication, and being transported to appointments. Families needed a respite from these tasks, and people with caregiving skills needed employment.
Griswold takes obvious pleasure in recounting the dedication of her caregivers. “They do more than give a meal or change a wet bed,” she says. “They make people feel that even though they are sick, they’re still OK people. They make our clients feel good about themselves.”
Caregivers make life easier for their charges through small acts such as substituting a bell when a confused client doesn’t understand how to use a “call” button. They go beyond the call of duty. One petite caregiver squeezed through a swinging dog door when her client didn’t respond to her knock. Another dresses her client, a former senior partner of a law firm, and takes him to his office where she sits with him for eight hours tending to his needs.
“He’s very confused but this maintains his dignity, and his children are willing to pay for him to have that feeling,” Griswold says.
Her spirit—which touches everyone in her business—has earned Griswold numerous awards, including the Spirit of Philadelphia Award, Philadelphia Entrepreneur of the Year, and Pennsylvania’s Fifty Best Women in Business Award, as well as a spot in the Hall of Distinguished Alumni at Rutgers University. She also has been featured in Entrepreneur, Forbes and Success magazines and on “The Today Show.”
Griswold’s energy, ingeniousness, and all-embracing heart make her a figure many look up to, even though she’s sitting down.
“Everyone has heard the aphorism, ‘When life gives you lemons, turn them into lemonade.’ Well, Jean Griswold turned her truckload of life’s lemons into a towering lemon meringue pie,” says Arney Rosenblatt, a spokesman for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in New York.
“Through her efforts,” Rosenblatt says, “she’s shown that disability and inability are not synonymous, while providing encouragement to others who also struggle with the challenges of MS. She is a role model to us all.”