More than seven years ago, I applied for an industry I knew little about.  I wanted a “normal life” out of the restaurant and hotel management business. I wanted to do something with a heart. My grandmother Ellen had passed away, but had lived in a memory care facility in upstate Ohio. I wanted to be in an industry that took care of people like the wonderful place where she had lived.

I had been looking for over a year and came across a job advertisement for a marketing associate at a nearby retirement community. I did have sales experience and years of hospitality and customer service, so this seemed like a good fit. I did my due diligence of looking at the website, as well as getting more familiar with what services communities like that offered.

I was called in to interview with the Executive Director and then moved onto a phone interview with the Vice President of Operations, Alexia Pozar Hussey. I was nervous and chatty, but she was kind and patient. I was called back later that day with an offer, which I took immediately.

I met her in person a couple of weeks later and knew right away she had to be my mentor! I began researching her background and articles on her past positions, and I hung onto EVERY word she said.  She was direct and no nonsense, but personable. I watched how she conducted meetings and took notice of how she dealt with resident and employee challenges. With all my pervious mentors, male or female, I had never seen such finesse throughout a workday.

She picked up on my eagerness to learn the business and said she appreciated my work ethic. She recommended me for trainings, which fueled my excitement and passion for making the most out of a resident’s experience. She listened at my defeats and challenges and gave me insight and frequent pep talks. I tagged along as she introduced me to influential people in the industry at conferences and trade shows. I came back to work telling all my co-workers what a rock star we had as a leader and that she knows everyone in the business, or at least it seemed that way!

When the opportunity came up a couple of years later to apply for the Executive Director position, without hesitation she said, “You can do this. It’s time.” Almost every day for a year I wanted to cry, quit or both. I was overwhelmed by the demands and emotional stresses of trying to do the right thing all while doing my job and staying compliant with the state. Alexia was the one who would say, “If you make a decision for the right reasons and in the best interest of your resident, it’s almost impossible to make a mistake.”  Still, with every mistake I did make, she was there to show me how to do it better the next time and why. It was always just what I needed, and when I needed it.

I have worked in a few other industries before finding my way to senior living, and most of them were male-dominated. I had found a few mentors, but sometimes the tactics didn’t line up right. There is something to having a mentor who shares some similar traits, which can include gender. I am also that kind of person that seeks to find the winner in a group and “stick with them,” hoping that the winning spirit rubs off on me too.

Now that our community is preparing to go through a transition, Alexia will no longer be my Vice President of Operations. I knew this would happen eventually, but eventually never seemed to come. Until now.

I am starting to have the feeling of a baby bird, stretching its wings out, carefully placing a toe at the edge of the nest. I feel the words and wisdom of my dear mentor starting to push on my back.  

I am forever grateful to her, as my leader and friend, for giving me an opportunity, letting me make mistakes, learn lessons, and enjoy the reward of successes.  My hope is for everyone to have a blessing of a great leader and mentor. As I look forward, I realize that, in fact, it’s time for me to be Alexia Pozar Hussey for someone else.

Joyce Crowder-McBride is the Executive Director at Savannah Commons in Savannah, GA. She began at Savannah Commons in 2011 in the marketing department, before being promoted in 2013.