The Road to Where I am Now

Photo credit: Philip Kamrass / Times Union

Photo credit: Philip Kamrass / Times Union

My professional path has taken me in many different directions over the years.  Most of my adult life has been spent in New England or New York State, but I have ventured into Michigan and Oklahoma as well.

Many years ago I started out in the teaching field.  My major was health and physical education and I taught for five years.  Little did I know that this beginning would bring me to where I am now in my professional career.

I spent many years as an administrator in the non-for-profit world.  In most cases I was in a health related field, but there were few positions that took me in a different direction.  I was the Executive Director of the Albany Girls Club (now the Boys & Girls Club of Albany, NY) and I had a very exciting job as the executive assistant to a Presbyterian pastor in Michigan.  I managed his schedule in his all-encompassing role as:  head pastor, seminary president, religious tour guide to many parts of the world and director of exchange mission groups.  It was fascinating. Prior to that I was the assistant director of RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) in Oklahoma and worked very closely with seniors, placing them in schools and other organizations.

Volunteer programming became an important part of my life in several different locations – two small school districts in NYS, a 21 school district in Oklahoma, as well as the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY (I was also the Director of Human Resources at the zoo).  I loved interacting with the volunteers and being able to provide many extra pairs of hands to do jobs that the employees and administrators had difficulty finding time to do.

My “health care / assisting the elderly” world began in Syracuse, NY where I was the Executive Director of Meals on Wheels for a number of years.  While still in CNY, I worked with the SNAP (Senior Nutrition Assistance Program) program for the Office for Aging and then moved into the Alzheimer’s world.

My Mom who had vascular dementia  as a result of three strokes, had multiple medical problems most of her life, and died in 1978.   I began at the Alzheimer’s Association in 1989 with no real knowledge of where the organization would be headed in the future.  The national association and the local chapters were all in their infant stages.  We were pioneers in the field, helping families and educating doctors and nurses in hospitals and nursing homes.  This was the beginning of it all for me.  As the executive director said recently:  We were “learning day by day, relying on faith and guts and counting on the strength of our will to be stronger than the challenges we faced.”  It was a wonderful time of challenges, risking, teaching, hoping and daring to dare.

My next related venture took me to the innards of Detroit, MI.  I was the director of an adult day care program for dementia patients at Calvary Center, primarily for residents from the inner city.  There were many days that I drove the van into the poorest of poor sections of the city that had been destroyed by the riots in the 1960’s to pick up our participants.

Hospice is where I landed next, leading their volunteer program.  Hospice is an absolutely wonderful organization.  I spent hours with family members and dying patients.  I trained volunteers to go into homes at a family’s most vulnerable point.  It was critical that our volunteers understood their role and were able to offer the compassion that was needed at such tender moments.  It was a very humbling experience.

My most recent involvement has been as senior director of memory care – assisted living communities.  I spent six years with Benchmark Senior Living (working in 10 communities in 3 states) assisting family members adjust to their loved one’s new environment.  Three of those years I was interim senior director in communities that were in the process of hiring a permanent director for the memory care programs. I trained staff and family members, spent wonderful one-on-one moments with residents and trained new directors at corporate headquarters.

My teaching background has been a critical factor in my role within the Alzheimer’s and dementia field.  Almost every meeting with family members or staff becomes a teaching moment.   As a young child, I was well aware of my Mom’s medical situation.  The exposure to her situation heightened my awareness and sensitivity to the needs of those with medical issues. There’s no doubt it takes a special kind of person to work in the dementia field.  We have to be patient, caring, loving, understanding and have a deep sense of passion for what we do and total compassion for those we serve.

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