We are thrilled to announce the winner of PROaupair’s 2018 Professional Au Pair of the Year competition: Verena Held, a 26-year-old Occupational Therapist and professional au pair who graduated from the Döpfer Schule in Munich, Germany. Read on to learn why Verena is the 2018 winner!

When we were doing the interviews to hire a new au pair for our family, my prayer was we would find our own Mary Poppins. We did and have been so blessed that we were paired with Verena.

Verena Held is exactly what we needed in an au pair…someone loving and fun who also provides structure and discipline, someone with lots of energy to keep up with the kids, who cares about our kids, who takes the initiative, who encourages the kids, and who can be goofy when goofy is needed and be serious when necessary.

We didn’t know what to expect when Verena arrived but it didn’t take us long to realize Verena is a very special person and a perfect fit for our family. Verena grew up in a family with a sibling with a disability so she immediately understood our family. She understood not everything was perfect and some things were more difficult for a family with special needs.

Right before coming to the US, Verena graduated with an Occupational Therapy degree in Germany. When Verena joined our family, Kate was 13 years old and had difficulty with many skills of independent living. Verena put her OT training to work immediately to break those skills down into smaller, simpler steps. Most importantly, Verena let Kate practice the steps, sometimes hundreds of times, until Kate acquired the skill.

An example of this is putting on a seatbelt. Before Verena arrived, we had been working with Kate for over two years on this skill but oftentimes found ourselves behind schedule and gave in most times to buckling Kate in instead of allowing Kate to try. VERENA TO THE RESCUE! She broke down the task into small steps and let Kate practice over and over…and you know what? Kate learned to put on her seatbelt. The same thing happened with Kate learning to put on her jacket! And wash her hair! And dry off after a shower! And rinse her plate and put it in the dishwasher! And the list goes on and on. Now, these things may sound small to some, but to our family, each skill of independent living is a huge success.

Our 8-year-old son, Jack, is in Kumon and has homework 6 days/week. Jack oftentimes refused to do his homework. We soon came to realize his refusal was more out of frustration because he did not understand the homework. Verena discovered the keys to success in helping Jack: a balance between helping and encouraging. Another great example was when Verena helped teach Jack to ride his bike without training wheels. She was so excited! She sees the kids’ successes like they were her own family’s successes.

Verena was also helping others in the community as well! Verena volunteered weekly at the Northern Therapeutic Riding Program helping kids with special needs learn to ride horses. She volunteered at a Thanksgiving lunch at Jack’s school. She also was an ambassador to several new au pairs by helping them transition to au pair life in the US.

In the winter of 2016, we learned the military was transferring us from Virginia to Texas. This was a little scary as we had been in Virginia for a long time, and we knew it would be a challenge for the kids to start in new schools, establish medical care in Texas, and start a new job. We were also concerned because Verena was supposed to return to Germany a month after the family move to Texas. VERENA TO THE RESCUE! Verena decided she would extend for six months to help our family transition to Texas. I don’t know how we would’ve done it without her.

By Verena extending an additional 6 months, she also gave Jeremy, who has been a stay at home dad since Kate was born, an opportunity to focus on his job search. GOOD NEWS....right before Christmas, Jeremy received a job offer and will be starting in January 2018. None of this could have happened without Verena by our family’s side.

There are so many precious things about Verena but one very special thing is that she loves to share her German culture/heritage with us. She lets the kids Skype her family and tells us stories of growing up in Germany and all about her family. Verena has also taught Kate some German songs, as they are always singing and dancing together. I have attached a video of Kate singing a German lullaby that Verena taught her. I know I am Kate’s mom, and may be biased, but it is totally adorable 😊.

If we had to sum up why Verena Held deserves the Professional Au Pair of the Year Award is because, to our family, she is “Practically Perfect in Every Way.” ~Mary Poppins