Laura Roy of Cranberry didn't have to go far from home to follow her life's passion.
After she graduated from Allegheny College, Ms. Roy landed a job in geriatrics right in Mars. Ms. Roy started her career as an administrator trainee at St. John Specialty Care Center nearly 20 years ago. She never looked back.
Now 44, Ms. Roy is the executive director at Passavant Retirement Community. Both St. John and Passavant are Lutheran SeniorLife communities.
In her role at Passavant, Ms. Roy is overseeing the Community's largest expansion at a cost of $57 million. Located on 42 acres in Zelienople, the Community is a complex for seniors with various housing options. The expansion will create households and environments where 16 to 18 seniors will live, according to Ms. Roy. The expansion is to be completed by March 2014.
It all fits in with her hope to be an instrument in changing the face of aging in the United States.
"People ask me, 'Isn't it depressing to work with the aging?' But it my passion and what I love doing. I hope what we are doing here changes how society perceives aging and long-term care," Ms. Roy said.
One of her dreams is that when people move to Passavant, that it is "just a change of address, not lifestyle. If anything we want it to be better for them," she said.
It was early on that Ms. Roy found her passion and love for older adults. As a child, her youth group at church volunteered at St. John. She was also very close to her grandparents, both experiences that she believes helped create this passion.
"I adored my grandparents and just really get along with older people. I always have," she said. "They are full of wisdom and completely and totally honest -- I just love that."
Ms. Roy decided to pursue a career where she would be able to work with the aging, but wasn't quite sure which route she wanted to follow. At first nursing looked appealing.
"Then I decided I needed to be in the policy end of things," she said.
Ms. Roy said at the time, there weren't many programs in gerontology, so she decided to study in psychology, a career path she felt wouldn't lead to a lot of money, but would be personally satisfying. After she graduated, she "pounded the pavement" looking for a job and found one at the nearby St. John.
Fourteen years ago, Ms. Roy became the executive director.
At the time, she was working at Lutheran SeniorLife in what she calls a "corporate role" and had little contact with the residents. When she was offered the role of interim executive director, she said she would need the weekend to pray about the decision.
"I distinctively remember it was Easter weekend. And then when they asked me to just step in and be the director, I thought, 'God is opening this door. I would be a fool not to walk through it,' " Ms. Roy said.
Ms. Roy's passion for seniors has overlapped into her personal life. She cared for her late grandmother for six years, caring and living with her until she died at the age of 97.
"It was a precious time with her," she said.
In her career, Ms. Roy said she has seen shifts in how society views the aging, but feels there is still a long way to go.
"I've seen some shift in the perspective, but I would like American's view to be like other countries where aging is a gift and where our elders are to be treated with respect. Other cultures are way ahead of us," she said.
Her role at Passavant is one Ms. Roy loves. After all, she is following her passion.
"I am living out my calling in my life. I am truly blessed every day to serve our elders," she said.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.