Caroline Olinger and Bill Otter each grew up in the tri-cities and separately followed remarkably similar career paths that have brought them home to the Fox Valley.
After serving their country as officers in the U.S. Armed Forces, both are operating business franchises designed to provide an in-home service.
The business model for each of their operations focuses on helping people, and seems the perfect fit for retired military careerists with discipline and leadership experience as well as a desire to serve their communities.
“We did our service away from our homes and wanted to provide something of value to the community,” Olinger said.
Olinger owns Seniors Helping Seniors of Fox Valley, a non-medical service providing assistance to senior citizens who want to continue living in their own homes.
Otter is the local franchise-holder for Tutor Doctor, a one-on-one academic tutoring service for students of all ages who need help in a particular subject or want to prepare for a standardized test.
Their individual stories have striking parallels.
Olinger grew up in St. Charles and graduated from St. Charles High School in 1979, while Otter is a Geneva native who graduated from Geneva High School in 1986.
Both attended the University of Illinois and participated in the ROTC program before becoming career military officers.
Olinger went into the U.S. Navy, while Otter joined the U.S. Air Force. Their careers brought both of them high rank, command responsibilities and postings all over the United States and the world.
Otter flew giant Air Force refueling and cargo aircraft before becoming a squadron commander. He later was deputy commander of a base in Arkansas, served on the operations staff at the Pentagon and worked on other commands worldwide.
Olinger worked with fleet support and training, served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other ports-of-call, before finishing her career as a chief of staff at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center on Lake Michigan in Illinois.
Both served nearly 30 years before retiring, with Otter achieving the rank of Air Force colonel, while Olinger was a Navy captain. In other words, equal ranks.
Eventually, Olinger and her husband returned to the Fox Valley and the couple bought a house in Batavia. Olinger then sought out the local franchise for Seniors Helping Seniors.
“I sort of took a leap,” Olinger said. “I wanted to help people in our community.”
Now, Olinger employs about 40 seniors part-time, who visit the homes of clients, known as “recipients,” to cook meals, perform light housekeeping, do laundry, provide transportation and handle other chores.
The service providers are active seniors from a wide range of backgrounds, Olinger said. They help the recipients get dressed, make sure medications are taken and just as importantly provide a social connection with another senior.
“That’s the peer-to-peer model,” Olinger said. “The connection is pretty profound. They have a lot of shared experiences in common.”
Olinger has been operating Seniors Helping Seniors for about four years, and helping seniors in Kane County and western DuPage County remain in their own homes.
Otter returned with his wife to Geneva more recently, buying a house in his hometown.
“How do I find a way to get involved in my community?” was the question Otter was asking himself upon his return.
The answer was starting the Tutor Doctor franchise, which he has been operating for less than a year.
Yet, Otter already employs about 16 part-time tutors. They include certified teachers, professionals with knowledge in a particular subject and even college students with exceptional abilities, Otter said.
The tutoring services are available for students ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors and beyond, Otter said.
“We help them be successful academically and show them that they have any path open to them in life,” Otter said. “If we can give them confidence, it takes away a lot of stress on the student as well as the parents.”
The tutors help students who are having trouble with a certain school subject, or provide preparation for the ACT, the SAT and other college entrance examinations. Otter said he has one student preparing for a test to gain entry into the U.S. Marine Corps.
Olinger and Otter meet with new clients to perform an initial assessment of their needs, and to determine the best fit for a senior service provider or academic tutor, frequency of visits and other details.
“We see a lot of challenges that seniors face in the home,” Olinger said.
Otter encounters many students who simply lost their way during normal schooling.
“We try to determine where they missed the concept,” Otter said. “It can snowball, so we try to fix it early on.”
Both Otter and Olinger like the franchise model for their businesses, because it provides them with a solid operating framework. In turn, their military experience makes them the perfect franchise-holders.
“The franchises like people who know how to follow a set of rules,” Otter said.
“They know we will protect the brand,” Olinger said.
The franchise model also provides flexibility.
“I want to bring some value to the community, but I also want to control my destiny and level of involvement,” Olinger said.
Otter said he gets the same kind of satisfaction in his new career as he did as a military officer.
“I found that I loved working with people and to lead them and get a chance to help them grow,” Otter said.
Olinger said she and Otter have found the perfect transition.
“We’ve had our careers,” Olinger said. “This is a mission.”
More information about Seniors Helping Seniors is available by calling 630-937-4246 or visiting seniorshelpingseniors.com/foxvalley.
More information about Tutor Doctor is available by calling 630-313-2037 or visiting tutordoctor.com.