When Cori Reese entered a nursing home for the first time as a child — to visit a great-grandmother — she remembers being terrified.

That fear stayed with her until she was a junior in college, when she was assigned to volunteer at Green Acres Health and Rehabilitation. Now the administrator of the Milledgeville, GA, facility, Reese was named the New Administrator of 2012 by the American College of Health Care Administrators on Sunday.

Several deserving awards were given during the Awards Ceremony on the General Jackson Showboat in Nashville, including the Distinguished Nursing Home Administrator Award to Mark Finkelstein, CNHA, FACHCA; the Outstanding Member Award to Charles Shelton Jr., CNHA, FACHCA; and honorary fellowships to Life Care Centers of America President Beecher Hunter and former American Health Care Association President and CEO Bruce Yarwood.

Truly a distinguished lot, but it’s the 34-year-old Reese who caught my attention most since this is an industry that’s increasingly realizing the importance of young talent.

On her first day as a scared volunteer, she was asked by a resident to buy a coke and a honey bun. At the end of their talk, the resident said, “I love you the bestest,” Reese remembers. “She said that to everybody, but I didn’t know that, “ she said Sunday with a laugh.

And that was the beginning — Reese worked her way up from volunteer coordinator, becoming the permanent administrator of 98-bed Green Acres in 2009. She met her husband, Mike, a speech language pathologist, at the center. He caught her eye when she heard him singing to a resident with no family; they were married in 2008 by a rehab resident who was also a pastor in 2008. They live with their two daughters, Reagan and Riley, in Wrightsville, GA.

Her mentors include Roxanne Galloway, the incoming chair of the ACHCA, and long-term care quality expert Lucy Rogers, RN, CHC, CHCA, CSA, FACHCA, both of whom expressed their pride in their protégée.

Reese has a long career ahead of her, but her recognition Sunday reflects what the college is doing well — inducting the next generation of long-term care leaders into its web. When stress and burnout are high, those spider strings are what can allow young administrators to keep going.

“This award is a motivational tool,” Reese said. “I want to continue to make life better for people who can’t care for themselves.”