FSA Internship Program Leads to New Career Path

Emily Vassoler was on track to work within the hospitality business. As a Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management major at Penn State University Park, she had gotten some experience working within her chosen field. And she was frustrated.

What Emily was coming to find was that the industry she was striving to become part of was not quite suiting her. There did not seem to be much room for relationship building in the jobs she had tried. It was during her junior year when a professor gave her the best advice she could have gotten. “He told me that if I didn’t love the industry, that I’d never be happy.”

This powerful statement hit home for Emily. And so, when she was presented with the opportunity to apply for an internship within a senior living community, she pursued it. 

What she found was that she was able to apply many of the talents she’d acquired during her schooling with a population she really loved. “I took care of my grandmother and have always had a soft spot for caring for the elderly,” she says. She credits FSA CEO Jane Mack for giving her the chance to explore a new option. “Jane told me that much of what I was learning in school would translate within a retirement community,” she says.

After successfully completing the interview process with FSA, Emily was placed at Chandler Hall in Newtown, PA. Her first day on the job was a crash course in the many facets of life in a senior living community. “I attended a ‘sexual education for the elderly’ seminar—which made me blush! And then I had my first board meeting,” she says. And in very different ways, “both things forced me to put myself out there right from the beginning.”

Putting herself out there was certainly the right approach. Her advice for others, “Your internship is what you make of it.”

It wasn’t long into her internship when Emily knew she was in the right place. Any preconceived notions she had quickly faded away. This included something she initially had reservations about: living among residents. Housing was included as part of the 11-week program, and her room was located within the independent living area. She had wondered how she would connect with older adults, some of whom were more than three times her age. But, “they became like my grandparents, all 24 of them,” she says. “We spent dinners together, played Scrabble, did crafts and music together.”

Her colleagues at Chandler Hall helped her find her niche, giving her a taste of all the departments within the organization, and then allowing her to focus on the areas she was most interested in. And fortunately, even once she returned to school, she found work at Foxdale Village, another Quaker values-based community near Penn State. This was a comfort, as even though the community was different, the framework and philosophy was the same: the “bottom line” is not the primary focus; lead by example; treat community members with the highest respect and dignity.

Upon graduation from Penn State, Emily set about pursuing her passion for eldercare. Using grant funds provided to Chandler Hall from Friends Foundation for the Aging, she completed an Administrator in Training program. From there, she received her Nursing Home Administrator (NHA) license, and not long after, heard of an NHA opening where it all began: at Chandler Hall. So, back she went.

Today, her job duties at Chandler Hall include overseeing the daily operations of a 53 bed skilled nursing unit, attending physicians for the wellness center, corporate compliance and risk management. And now, she gets to work with her own FSA interns. She loves introducing them to the world she has come to know so well, and helping them find their passions.

Looking back, Emily is grateful for the honesty of the professor who pushed her. She says, “My job may be stressful at times, but I’m happy every day coming to work. I’m lucky.”

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In 2011, FSA and Friends Foundation for the Aging partnered to support member organizations in the identification and development of the next generation of leaders within the aging services industry. Since then, more than 50 interns have completed the program at host sites spanning the country.

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