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Surviving, and thriving, in the United States

  • Category: Career Spotlight
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  • Written By: Allied Services Integrated Health
Surviving, and thriving, in the United States

REPOSTED FROM Times Leader: By Mary Therese Biebel

When she first arrived in the United States Thavee Gilchrist, now of Kingston, thought it would be “just for a visit.”

But that was 27 years ago. For almost half of her life, Gilchrist, 55, has been living and working in the States — performing a variety of jobs from nurses aide to server to newspaper delivery person.

And, on a visit to her native Thailand a few years ago, she said, “I was homesick for here,” meaning America.

So she recently applied to become a naturalized citizen, studied for an exam that asked a series of civics questions — from who is the current Speaker of the House to who was President during World War II — and on May 19 was proudly sworn in as a citizen.

The ceremony took place at the office of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services in Philadelphia.

“My mom would be proud that she got her citizenship,” Steven Davidowitz of Dallas said, noting that Gilchrist had been a care giver for his late mother, community activist Esther Davidowitz, during the final years of her life.

“She was very compassionate and very dedicated,” Davidowitz said of Gilchrist. “She took pride in her work.”

“Essy treated me like a daughter,” Gilchrist said, smiling at the memory.

Gilchrist long ago left her own parents and three siblings in Thailand, where she had been born in Surin Province and also lived in Bangkok. When she was growing up, she remembers with a laugh, she would sometimes ask to get a meal from McDonalds instead of eating traditional Thai food with her grandparents.

That prompted her mother to predict, “Someday, you’re going to marry an American.”

The prediction did come true; Gilchrist grew up and married a man from Texas who was working in Thailand. They lived in her country for the first four years of their marriage, and that’s where their daughter, Brenda, was born.

Then Gilchrist’s husband wanted to return to the United States, and Gilchrist moved to Texas with him.

She received her U.S. Green Card in 1998 and proved how strong her work ethic is.

What she remembers as “my most joyful job,” up until that time, was working a newspaper delivery route with 275 customers in Texas, where she’d take Brenda along, give her some cocoa and let the little girl hand her the newspapers.

One day she spotted a Thai restaurant and thought maybe they could use her. “When can you start?” the owner asked when she stopped in.

Gilchist did well as a waitress, sometimes earning $200 to $300 a day in tips. But her home life became less than happy, with her husband, who was many years older than she was, discouraging her from having outside friendships. He even spent hours at the restaurant, where he would sit and watch her.

When he became violent, other people noticed her bruised face and encouraged her to move into a women’s shelter. Gilchrist didn’t stay there long, figuring other women needed the space more than she did. She moved out into an apartment of her own, with the angry words of her soon-to-be-ex husband ringing in her ears.

“You’ll never survive on your own.”

Again and again, she proved him wrong.

She continued working at the restaurant and, as a sideline, sold home security systems. Eventually, she would also take on the responsibility of managing the mansion-like household of a wealthy businessman who frequently ate dinner at the restaurant.

In her personal life, she met a new man and tried marriage a second time, this time having a daughter named Toré. When that marriage dissolved after nine years, she left Texas behind and forged onward.

She came to Pennsylvania about 10 years ago and again, her work ethic manifested itselfhere as well. At one point Gilchrist was working 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. at a supermarket deli counter followed by the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. overnight shift at Allied Services, where she watched monitors so she could alert the nursing staff if a patient tried to get out of bed unassisted.

By 9 a.m. she’d be ready for class at Luzerne County Community College.

Eventually, she became a nurses aide at Allied Services, which is where she met Essy Davidowitz, who was recovering from back surgery. That meeting led her to work as a private duty nurses aide; she cared for Davidowitz in her home, through the pandemic, and was with her when she passed away in 2022.

Now Gilchrist works as a nursing assistant at Allied Services Integrated Health System Rehab Hospital and, although she’s taking a break from her studies, she hopes to eventually earn a nursing degree.

Her children are grown; both in their 20s. And Gilchrist has found love again, with a man who stepped back from being in this story. “This is all about Thavee,” he said.

“I’m comfortable,” the new U.S. citizen said. “And I am very happy.”