Kris Swanson worked in management at Dayton’s and then Office Depot for a cumulative period of over three decades, but it wasn’t until five years before retirement that she found the job she calls her lifelong dream.
Swanson started at Birchwood Arbors in Forest Lake as a volunteer, and after six months was hired as a full-time staff member. “It was definitely a match made in heaven.”
Before she retired in March of 2017 from her position as Community Life Coordinator, Swanson led exercise and wellness classes every day of the week. “We do a lot of laughing as well as doing the different stretches and things. We enjoy each other’s company.” Swanson also facilitated activities such as taste-testing with fruit or chocolate and welcome parties for new residents. “It isn’t anything earth-shattering or super complicated, it’s just getting together and having fun.”
Something Swanson learned early on working with seniors was from a conversation she had with a resident who was involved in every activity at Birchwood Arbors. The resident told Swanson that one of the biggest misconceptions of people getting older is that people think once you have moved into assisted living you can’t do anything anymore. “We’re here to prove that’s not the way it is,” says Swanson. [Residents] are still full of life, still full of vitality. They are a vibrant part of the community, and have a lot of input as far as what goes on. They know their feedback is valued. You need to respect your best resource—the people you’re around.”
To anyone considering a career change to work with seniors, Swanson advises not to put it off. “It will be the best move of your career—one of the best moves of your life. Don’t hesitate—it is phenomenal. [I] get goosebumps from time to time when I think about how lucky I was to walk away from a full-time job and go after my dream job. I was thankful I did not ignore those feelings I had about wanting to do it but not knowing how I can. Don’t put it off and don’t think you can’t do it.” Swanson adds that she never feels like she is alone. “I have an incredible team I’m working alongside every day.”
In retirement, Swanson plans to continue at Birchwood Arbors as a volunteer. “What makes it special for me is now I’m going to come full circle in my career. It’s important for me to continue to be here with them. I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to see the smile on their face, the twinkle in their eye when they’re up to something. We keep each other in line.”