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My Why: Just to see [them] smile

In honor of World Smile Day, Life Enrichment Director Victoria Hadley shares her journey to faith, working with passion, and getting paid in smiles at Highland Ridge located in Williamsburg, Iowa.

Victoria writes,

Longing for purpose

“I started my journey at Highland Ridge just about 10 years ago, and I can truly say that God guided me here. Growing up in rural Iowa I did what most kids do; I worked on a farm! The work was good for me, because I needed the money, but I never felt that I was living with purpose. I worked on a hog farm that produced pigs to be sent off to finishers to be butchered; someone had to do it.

In fact, I didn’t truly start living with a purpose until I met my husband, DJ. Before meeting him, I had never set foot in a church, never read the Bible, and never learned anything about God. But the more I got to know God, the more I realized without a shadow of a doubt that I was meant to know and feel His love. He wanted me in His life, and He literally threw Himself at me. I say this because my mother-in-law is an ordained minister, my brother-in-law is a Chaplain in the National Guard of Iowa, and all three of my sisters-in-law are youth ministers. I began to learn and grow in my faith, but I still felt called to do more!

The transformative joy of a smile

I had a few friends that worked at Highland Ridge and they always talked about working at the “Castle” (Highland Ridge Looks like a giant castle with turrets and it sits atop a hill)! They begged me to come take the Certified Nursing Assistant class and work with them. I was very reluctant to take the class, because I didn’t think there was any way that this was what God was calling me to do; I had very little experience working with or even being around older adults. But, by the grace of God, I signed up; it was a life changer!

Photo of Victoria Hadley dancing with a Highland Ridge resident at an event.I began working as a Resident Assistant at Highland Ridge in September of 2009, and immediately was drawn to residents and their stories. Visiting and building relationships with them filled my heart with joy; the overflowing, bursting, can’t-get-enough kind of joy!

Once I experienced the transformative joy of a smile, I started seeking out new ways to make residents smile. Sometimes it was just a compliment on an outfit, remembering something that they are passionate about and striking up conversation, getting to know their families, reminding them that they can have just as much fun as they always did, and of course, showing them that they are able to do things that they doubted they could. I love getting “paid” in smiles!

Throughout the last 10 years of working for Highland Ridge I have been blessed in more ways than I can explain. One of the greatest blessings I received was the opportunity to go to college, something I never thought that I was going to do. I waited 12 years to start college because I never thought I would be able to afford it and life always seemed to create obstacles. I lost my mother when I was 18 years old, right before I graduated high school and I had to work. I had no choice and I never thought that I would be able to work and go to school; it was one or the other. When I realized I could go to school online and still work full time, advancing my education became more of a reality.

Just to see [them] smile

I applied for a scholarship from Presbyterian Homes & Services and I am thrilled to say that I just graduated with a degree in Business Administration! I look forward to continuing my education and finding new and exciting ways to grow within this amazing ministry. God has allowed me to show compassion and bless others through my work. The more I can bless our residents the more God blesses me on this journey and I know He will continue to bless me.

During a PHS retreat, we were given an opportunity to reflect on our “why” or the reason we choose to serve older adults. I can sum it up in two words from our motto, “creating smiles.” From day one it has been my mission and personal goal to leave everyone I see with a smile. I look forward to being blessed by many more smiles in the years to come.”

Victoria created this short video to share a glimpse of just some of the infectious and beautiful smiles of the people she has the privilege of serving at Highland Ridge.


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