HOPE, GROWTH, & OPPORTUNITY
At Koelsch Communities we believe in empowering our employees. One of the ways we do this is by proving hope, growth, and opportunity to our employees. In fact, it would be hard to find someone at Koelsch Communities who has not experienced firsthand the hope, growth & opportunity we offer. Check Out a few stories from our team and how they have been empowered and encouraged and have grown in our company.
In 1993, 16-year-old Don Barber thought he was just taking on a part-time job when he started out washing dishes after school at an Assisted–Living community in Victorville, CA. But bigger things were happening. Don was launching a career with the community’s owner and operator Koelsch Senior Communities. Today, after succeeding in a variety of Koelsch positions, Don serves as the Senior Executive Director of Sterling Inn, the same community where he started out with his hands in the sink.
“The story of my career at Koelsch is the story of hope, growth, and opportunity,” Don says.
Koelsch Communities, founded in Kelso, WA in 1958, is a growing, family-owned company with 23 senior-living communities in eight states. Second-generation CEO and President Aaron Koelsch, a dynamic leader, takes an active role in every aspect of the company’s activities.
Koelsch offered Don a full-time job in the kitchen after he graduated from high school. Don seized the opportunity, quickly taking on more responsibility and rising though the ranks as a Dining Room Server, Dietary Aide (prep cook), Dining Room Manager, Lead Cook and Assistant Kitchen Manager.
“I worked hard and tried to show initiative,” Don says. “I’m good with mechanics so if something broke in the kitchen, I’d fix it. My efforts were encouraged and recognized. Koelsch continued to present me with new career opportunities to develop as a professional.”
Less than three years after Don started full time at KSC, President and CEO Aaron Koelsch asked him to move north and accept a promotion to Food and Beverage Manager at the company’s flagship community, Delaware Plaza in Longview, WA. One year later, Don was promoted again to Food and Beverage Manager for a then-new Koelsch community, Canterbury Inn, also in Longview.
“Aaron (Koelsch) was more than a boss to me—he was my mentor,” says Don. “He trained me, he encouraged me and he provided me with opportunities to grow and build my resume. One huge thing I learned from Aaron was the importance of people and listening skills. Aaron is never too busy to stop, take a resident’s hand and ask about his or her day. Then he focuses on that one person and really listens.”
Meantime, Don’s priorities were changing. He and his wife longed to return home to California, buy a house and start a family. “This is a family-oriented company, so leaders here understood,” Don says. After two years in Washington State, Don moved back to California, again with a Koelsch promotion in hand, this time to Corporate Food and Beverage Manager, supervising meal service for three California communities.
In June 2006, the Vice President of Operations offered Don another promotion—Executive Director of Sterling Inn, the same community where he had started out washing dishes 13 years before. “I was humbled by the opportunity and scared stiff,” Don says. “But I knew I had Aaron’s support and that company leaders would be there to back me up.”
For Don, it has been an ideal position. “I know what it’s like to do many of the jobs I now supervise,” he says. “I know the history of how we did things and it helps me problem solve. I thrive on the relationships that surround me, both with the residents and the staff. There are employees here who still remember me from my early days in the kitchen,” he says.
He’s also grateful for an executive job that doesn’t require extensive travel. “My wife and I have two young children. I’m happy to stay put for now.”
Though Don has been through plenty of Koelsch interviews, he has never interviewed with another company. “What I know about other companies is how happy their former employees tend to be once they get here. They love the passion for senior care, the supportive, personal corporate culture and the variety of opportunities. I was so fortunate to find my first job here. It led me to not only a career, but also a calling. I know I’m making a difference.”
Vice President of Memory Care and Resident Services Cyndie Bryant’s career at Koelsch Senior Communities began as a volunteer, went through a lengthy delay and then took off again after a period of deep professional despair.
As a young girl, Cyndie knew she wanted to be a nurse and would tag along with her aunt who worked at a Koelsch community in Longview, WA as a Certified Nursing Assistant. “I would help pass out ice water and assist with meals. I enjoyed helping people,” she says.
She remembers Koelsch Community co-founder Alice Schultz (Koelsch) giving her a lesson on how to make a bed. “She taught me to be precise, execute sharp corners and finish with a smooth, tight bed. I was just a kid, but Mrs. Schultz showed me how to do an excellent job in the service of another person.”
Fast forward: Cyndie put herself through nursing school juggling two jobs. She worked for 17 years as a nurse in a variety of settings, including the emergency room, hospital floors and nursing homes. “It wasn’t like my dream,” she says. “The ER was too hard on my heart. At hospitals, I struggled to build relationships; the faces were always changing. At many institutions, I watched patients get short-changed because somebody wanted to make a buck.”
Burnt out and disillusioned, Cyndie quit her job and told her family she would never work in nursing again.
Three weeks later, after every family member begged her to find an outlet for her considerable energy, Cyndie went on an interview for a part-time, night-shift nurse with the same company where she first worked as a volunteer, Koelsch Communities. Cyndie was hired on October 4, 1999.
“I went back to a place where I remembered feeling like I was making a difference,” she says. “A place where I learned even a simple job, like making the bed, could be performed with excellence.”
When the company learned about Cyndie’s background and experience, she was offered a Director of Nursing (now called Director of Resident Services) position instead. Cyndie’s career at Koelsch was off and running. New opportunities for professional growth were regularly offered to her. Within five years of that first interview, Cyndie was serving as both the Executive Director and the Director of Resident Services for two Longview communities, Canterbury Gardens (Memory Care) and Delaware Plaza (Assisted Living).
Work started to feel good again. “At Koelsch, if you needed something to provide the best care for a resident, you got it. Aaron Koelsch (current President and CEO) operated under the same philosophy as his mother Alice--the resident comes first. There was no scrimping. I enjoyed the feeling that I was doing right by my patients. I felt proud of my work and my company.”
She also relished the opportunity to interact with residents again. “I loved the relationships I found here,” she says. Remembering her own positive experience as a volunteer, Cyndie started periodically bringing along her teenage daughter April after school and during holidays and breaks.
As the company began to expand into its current eight-state market, Cyndie was asked to write the manual for all Koelsch Directors of Resident Services. Then she was offered the opportunity to travel to new communities to help hire and train nursing directors and staffs as the company’s Vice President of Memory Care and Resident Services.
“I’m passionate about setting a standard for excellence in resident care and then supporting our communities as they work to achieve it. We’re all on the same team at Koelsch. There’s camaraderie and loyalty here. And that can be hard to come by in the working world,” says Cyndie, who now enjoys an 18-year relationship with the company.
Déjà vu all over again: Meantime, another Bryant career was beginning to flourish at Koelsch. Cyndie’s daughter April, who tagged along with her mom as a teenage volunteer, was hired as a Receptionist. Earlier this year, April received her first promotion: Head Receptionist/Human Resources at Canterbury Gardens. “I’m delighted and proud that April has found the same opportunity for professional growth and satisfaction at Koelsch Communities that I did,” Cyndie says.