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My family legacy: living a life of service

Stephanie Horak serves as the Quality in Living Specialist at Lake Minnetonka Shores in Spring Park, MN. She recently reflected on her family upbringing and how it shapes the service she provides today.

Stephanie writes:

Black and white photo of Stephanie's ancestors outside of the home that they built.
My story began over 120 years ago at Lakeside Dairy Farm when my Swedish immigrant relatives settled in Wisconsin and started a family and built a church in their farmhouse. The legacy passed down to me was rich with opportunities for learning how to live a life of service.

Attending a small country church meant that everyone had a job to do in contributing to the life of the community. Serving others was our way of life;  whether it was helping in Sunday School, Christmas caroling for the older members of our community or filling in for the church organist. My daily world included people of all ages. My parents modeled cheerfully serving others in a variety of ways including: visiting the blind man down the road and finding work for single mothers.  I never questioned if I should serve others, it was simply part of my life.

Landscape photo of Lakeside Dairy FarmMeant for meaningful work
I chose to major in social work with very little knowledge of what a social work career would be like, but I never looked back to question it. God knew that I was meant for this kind of meaningful work; indeed he designed me to shine most brightly while putting others in their best light. Many careers interested me—criminal justice, helping people re-enter society after serving a sentence, serving children in poverty, and I landed on the goal of becoming a school social worker.  I never considered a career serving older adults, though I’d visited nursing homes both as a kid with my dad and siblings and as a young adult with my church--playing the piano and leading worship services.

After college I took a temp job, filling open shifts at various places and landed at the Lake Minnetonka Shores senior living community, working in the adult day program. It was my dream job and I stayed for eight years. I left briefly to work for another senior living provider but I returned to Lake Minnetonka Shores in 2008 and felt like I was “home."

Honoring God by advocating for others
Working as a social worker has  always aligned with my heartfelt belief tthree photos of Stephanie with older adult residents, smilinghat everyone is created in the image of God and  has intrinsic value, beauty and dignity. Advocating for people who are sometimes overlooked, misunderstood or even disliked allows me to honor God every day in my work.

Recognizing the beauty in each person I encounter gives me tremendous joy as I see and hear glimpses of their rich stories, filled with many blessings, hardships, challenges and losses which have led them to deep reservoirs of wisdom and resilience. I’ve learned that despite changes in vision, hearing, mobility, memory, and lifestyle, these residents are more truly themselves than ever before and have much to teach me if I simply take the time to listen.

Treasuring relationships and memories
What a blessing it has been to have the chance to transition from a Resident Services role to become the Quality in Living Specialist (QILS) as part of the ResoLute grant program. I help residents face their mortality and identify what matters most to them. I’m able to walk alongside as they reflect back on their history and look forward to the rest of their lives, ensuring they have a voice and leave a legacy, helping them to find peace and hope. It’s as though I’ve been preparing for 26 years for such a time as this—to have learned how to listen, read between the lines, set aside personal judgements and affirm each one in their unique story.
Being present as people bravely face their mortality and consider their eternity, treasure their relationships and memories and build their legacy is a humbling experience.  It is an honor to engage in this sacred work.

Most rewarding about my work is the opportunity to bring my whole self to work; I use my skills, knowledge, intellect, talent, personality, sense of humor, body and spirit in serving my residents, families and colleagues.  It begins with one human meeting another human and finding common ground. That is "My Why."

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