Guest Columns

Finding a place in senior dining services

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Kera Wooten
Kera Wooten

When I was asked if I would be interested in sharing the story of my career path, I thought, “why me?”  Then I discussed it with my family, friends, and colleagues; each of them, in one way or another, thought it was a great opportunity. One of my best friends even said, "you have touched more teenagers' lives than I have in my 16 years of teaching."

I started my career working with seniors long before I knew it would be a career. I worked in a retirement community as a teenager doing a very similar job as the teens who work in dining services at Ashby Ponds today. At the time, I would never have believed that I would pursue a career in senior living, let alone in dining services; but not because I didn't like seniors or food.  (In fact, my grandparents helped raise me and I discovered early on that I loved exotic foods and the experience of dining out.) As a young girl I saw myself in a business suit, carrying a briefcase, and sitting at a table in a conference room on the 36th floor in a big city. But someone said, "make a plan and God laughs," and he did just that.

After college I worked briefly at a bank and quickly realized that I wasn't as fulfilled as I thought I would be. Rather, I felt most comfortable when visiting the retirement community where I had worked during high school and college. I often visited with the residents and reconnected with the leaders who had taught me dining basics.  

During one of my visits, I ran into the Executive Director, and I talked about my new job and my plans for the future.  I would have never imagined that one brief discussion with someone would become the start of my career in hospitality.

A week later I received a call asking if I would be interested in applying for a dining room manager position. I thought long and hard. My dream job was still working in a conference room on the 36th floor, and this would be anything but that.  After a lot of contemplation, I took a chance and applied for the job of dining services manager with Marriott and the rest is history. It has been filled with one great opportunity after the next.

I worked for Marriott for four years before I learned that Greenspring, a retirement community just down the road, was looking for dining managers. Once again, I thought, “why not me?”  So I applied for a position, and after a few interviews with managers boasting extensive backgrounds, I was asked to join the community. I worked for about eight months as a dining services manager before I was asked to step into an interim role as the staff development manager. That soon became my permanent role, and it was a job that I loved!

In the role of staff development manager, you were the person who built the initial relationship with student staff members. I easily became not only the hiring manager and facilitator of training opportunities, but someone an employee could rely on for support. As rewarding as the job was, it still didn't fulfill my desire to touch the department in the way I wanted to. I wanted to be a leader in the department. I wanted to become the director. I had a strong desire to influence change, develop leaders, and create successful programs.  I shared this need to grow with my supervisor at the time, and he encouraged me to pursue a new opportunity in operations.

In operations, I went onto lead one of the largest teams in the community. Year after year, I continued to grow the team and business while “wowing” residents and staff along the way. All the while, I was able to support and create new initiatives at the community and within the Erickson enterprise, as well as helping out when other communities had gaps in leadership.

That is exactly how I was afforded the opportunity to lead the Ashby Ponds dining program through its next phase of growth. I joined the team to lend a hand in the absence of a restaurant manager and in the end, became the community's new dining director. I won't bore you with the details of that story, but I will leave you with this piece of advice:  Sometimes you have to be willing to try something new. 

Kera Wooten was recently promoted to director of dining services at Ashby Ponds.

Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.