It’s fortunate that Cheryl Klinkhammer is a morning person, since the most important tasks of her day take place before she even turns on her computer.
Tasks like dancing.
As the executive director of Trails of Orono, a 60-unit senior living community operated by Ebenezer Management Services, Cheryl starts every weekday walking through each section of the facility, greeting staff, residents and visitors.
On one recent morning, she comforted a new resident who was having a hard time accepting her health and living situation. That same morning, another resident was celebrating a birthday and insisted Cheryl put on some music and dance with her.
“She was twirling me around at 8 in the morning!” Cheryl says with a smile.
At the 80-unit Cherrywood Pointe community in Roseville, Executive Director Barbara Mekenye has a similar morning ritual and also takes time during lunch to visit residents in the dining room.
“That’s where I hear the gossip!” she says. “And they get to share their opinions: ‘Why don’t we have better salt shakers?’—things like that.”
Both women say the morning walkabouts help them connect with staff and residents and their own sense of purpose.
“I think it goes a long way toward the staff feeling like I support them,” Cheryl says. “Plus, it helps me remember my focus, my priorities. You can get really caught up in your email and the papers on your desk.”
Ebenezer manages 13 senior living communities like Trails of Orono and Cherrywood Point, plus two care centers and several adult day care centers. In total, Ebenezer touches the lives of more than 4,000 seniors every day.
“These communities complete the loop in Fairview’s health continuum, creating vibrant living situations and providing exceptional care for seniors,” says Susan Farr, vice president of development for Fairview Management Services.
“Ebenezer’s executive directors are a direct link to the health and care of a treasured population: our parents.”
A large part of the executive director role is behind-the-scenes troubleshooting. They keep tabs on all aspects of their communities, from marketing efforts to budgeting to organized resident activities to personnel issues to facilities management.
“If I’m the face of the organization, the dart in my hand is my nursing team,” Barbara says. “My left hand is the outreach and sales director, my sword is the concierge. My heartbeat is the kitchen. My feet are the activities director.”
Cheryl insists each day on the job is different, and you can never fully plan your schedule more than a few hours in advance.
For example, she spent a recent afternoon talking with a man from Ohio who is hoping to move to Trails of Orono with his wife, who has dementia, to be closer to their grown son. The day before, Cheryl helped staff remove the wedding ring of a man with dementia who had gotten it stuck on the wrong finger.
“My main goal is to be out there and be available for staff and residents,” Cheryl says. “You have to be able to jump off your seat and go help wherever you’re needed.”
Barbara and Cheryl say their role requires confidence, the ability to multi-task and remain calm under pressure and, perhaps most importantly, humility.
“You need to be willing to share your failures as well as your successes and learn new things every day,” Cheryl says. “New staff members can teach me things. You need to be humble.”
Cheryl’s passion for senior care began when she took a gerontology class in college and volunteered at an adult daycare center in St. Cloud.
“I felt, immediately, that I could make a difference in someone’s life,” she says. “Ever since then, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
For Barbara, making a difference takes on many forms—often, what you’d least suspect.
“When you give someone the best service ever, regardless of whether I’m mopping the floor or cycling your account or making sure you get your shower, that’s a gift,” she says.
She pauses, then adds, “This is a business, yes, but this is also a mission.”
Learn more about careers at Fairview.