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172: Courtney Dean

Courtney Dean, Exec. Director with Frontier Management, always felt “behind” in education. She took the nontraditional route after high school and was married at 19. She followed her husband who was in the US Air Force to different states and countries – and she waited on edge through his rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was then that Courtney became employed by the USAF in lodging and hospitality. 

As her work experience grew, she couldn’t help but feel like a late bloomer when pursuing higher education. During her quest for education, Courtney continued to work full-time, some semesters commuting 2 hours North through the snow to get to night classes. Other semesters were spent waking up at 3:30AM to study and complete lectures before a full day of work.

In May 2021, at 28 years old, Courtney became a first-generation college graduate. Her advice: It’s never “too late” to START, you’re never “too old” to LEARN, and life is never “too busy” to DO!”

See her post.

Lucas:

Welcome to Bridge The Gap podcast. The senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. Another great love story on our show about people in the business and the stories behind their success and the reasons they do what they do. We want to welcome Courtney Dean. She’s an executive director at Frontier Management out of California. Welcome to the program.

Courtney:

Hello. Hello. Thank you guys for having me. I appreciate it so much. 

Josh:

Courtney, we love your LinkedIn posts. This is how we found you and how many people have found you. You have written a post about your life and your journey about your personal story, about your direction and your drive and your goals and how you’ve achieved them. Tell us some of your background and what led you to this post and give our listeners some context.

Courtney:

Of course, of course. So you can gain a little bit of insight on my life from my post. But of course, that’s just a snapshot as is really any post on social media. So a little bit more about me is I was married, just 19 years old, my husband was in the active duty air force at that time. So he had just returned from a deployment in Afghanistan. We decided, you know, no time like the present let’s go. We eloped over to New Mexico, his current base, where he was at, it was just the two of us at the courthouse. And the time is right. And so we did it, we got married. And then from there, my path kind of started to take a different direction. You know, all of my friends, 19, they were going to university, they were fulfilling their educational route, but I, I kind of bypassed that right now at that point in my life.

Courtney:

Followed my heart and from there, just let life experience guide me and get me to where I’m at today. So I followed my heart, did a lot of working in that time. I just went from my first job ever before I was married, I was a caregiver for Alzheimer’s and dementia. And so that’s where my heart started in senior living. I found my place myself in a place where I needed a position and they were hiring. And so that’s where I got my niche really. And so I started there. I stepped away from it when I got married, I went into hospitality and lodging for quite some time. I worked for the air force helping crews that were being deployed. We were in England at the time, actually. So we did a little bit of moving around at that time.

Courtney:

We were stationed in England. I worked on base. I helped house air force one at one point. I helped a lot of distinguished visitors. And so that was really interesting meeting different aircrews from different countries. Turkish aircrews, France aircrews. So that was really where I learned that I love people. I love helping people and serving them when they’re serving us. And so kind of finding that way to give back to our seniors, you know, it was always in my heart, but finding the correct direction and where to put that and where to put my energy is how I ended up in senior living. My husband got out of the air force after six years we came back home to California and I hit the ground running. I went back into senior living as an activities coordinator and then quickly promoted up into a marketing director. And then from there, signed on as an executive director with Frontier Management.

Lucas:

That’s fascinating. So, I mean, there’s so much there. You’re traveling around the world. You’re helping coordinate plans for air force one over on different bases. And you had this yearning in your heart to get back to seniors and older adults and serving and caring for them have climbed the ladder. And then in this post, you talk about, getting back into your educational goals. Tell us more about that.

Courtney:

Absolutely. So I always felt, and this isn’t true. I always felt that if I wanted that next step, I have to go get this degree and I need to go get this credential to be able to help better serve and do. But I found during my journey that that’s not entirely true, but the more tools we can equip ourselves with the more people we can reach, the wider spread we can have. And that’s kind of, I mean, that’s how you and I connected. That’s how I’m able to have this reach with you is because I was able to take that step and complete that journey. And so, while they’re very beneficial tools to have in my education, I still believe that just the hard work and the dedication to even get there is first and foremost what you need. But hey, a degree doesn’t help doesn’t hurt. 

Josh:

Well, so, I’m very curious.  I think I probably, I definitely didn’t follow the path you followed, but I worked straight out of high school and I think I’m tracking with you that you learn so much through just doing. And for everybody, it’s not always to jump straight into college or university pursuits. So I’m really curious, even dating back to the time when you said you were a caregiver really intrigued by that. When you look back in hindsight and that experience, how do you think some of these work and life experiences prepared you for what you’re doing today?

Courtney:

Wow, that’s a great question. I think one thing specifically that really helped mold from where I’m at today and to be a really efficient executive director and overseeing the entire operations of a community, is just being able to do the work that you ask of others. And I did that from the very beginning of my career. I did the work that I ask of others. 12-hour shifts caregiving, and then rolling right around to go into visiting my husband three states away when he came back from his deployment. And so it’s finding ways to make the time in your personal life that can still benefit your career. And so I think it’s important that you balance that. We find that we’re able to get distracted by, like I said, the life checklist. I need to meet all of these checklists before I’m able to go on to the next step, but that’s not true. So what I’m able to do, what I was able to do as a caregiver was I got my foundation of my work. I was able to kind of truly connect with why I wanted to do this. You know, anybody can come in with a business degree and start checking budgets and seeing what needs to be fixed, but where’s your heart and why is it there? And I think having that groundwork of the base is where it comes from.

 

Josh:

Yeah, I would totally agree. So what else do you think talking to maybe our audience out there, we have a growing group of I would say young listeners that are either kind of at the entry-level of senior housing, or maybe they haven’t ever even heard of senior housing. We’ve had a cohort, a growing cohort of university students that are out there, or those that are about to go into a university. They’re not really sure what senior living is, or they’re kind of exploring it, what they want to do with their life. Do you have any like pointers for maybe how to get the foot in the door? Because obviously, you’ve kind of worked your way through caregiving through activities and now you’re at the executive director role leading a community. Maybe university is not for some people, but how would you say if someone wants to get their foot involved in senior housing and eventually maybe be where you are, where do they start? What should they start looking for?

Courtney:

Absolutely. I think that’s perfect.  I’m in a lot of kind of networking groups and people will come out with marketing degrees or business degrees and they say, well, I don’t know exactly what I want to do. And I always kind of say, senior living is kind of a forgotten industry. A lot of people, especially my age, don’t even understand that all of this opportunity is out there for them to help themselves while serving others. And so I think you really hit the nail on the head with that, that a lot of people, my age or my generation don’t understand that this is an option for them too. And so a way to kind of get into that, just do it. I’d say, do your research on just some different companies. I’ve worked with a few different companies. I’m currently with Frontier Management now.

Courtney:

They’re one of the largest senior livings in the United States at this point. And so finding a company that has that outreach and the support in and shares the same values that you have. I think it’s the most important thing. Even just going in and volunteering maybe, and doing some activities. Right now, the volunteer programs look a little bit differently, but there’s always still that option to volunteer and see if it’s something you’re attracted to. And there’s so many different facets of senior living too. There’s the independent, assisted, memory care. Memory care is what calls my heart specifically. So I just, I challenge people to find what calls their heart and where they think that they are going to best serve each other, but still be served themselves because it’s reciprocal. That care that we give because our residents, they still have that purpose of wanting to care and wanting to have a purpose in their life. So if that feeling is reciprocal for the servant’s heart, then I think you’ll be fine. But like I said, I think you need to find a company or a community even that that really fits your ethics and your morals and what that looks like. Because even though communities may still be at the same company, the community itself, the building itself has its own culture that you want to be drawn to and that you want to serve. And so I think it’s important to find that.

Josh:

Oh, I love that. You know, Lucas, I was sitting here thinking, you actually found Courtney because of a post on LinkedIn. You and I Lucas met via LinkedIn. And so I think, as we’re talking to all of our listeners out there, it’s amazing the power of, as you said, Courtney, on the networking and particularly through even social media and LinkedIn networking, who would have thought that through one post that you made that now you’re with us on Bridge The Gap podcast. Who would have thought that I don’t know, six years ago, Lucas, me and you would have met, had coffee and then never known that we would be doing a podcast together years later. So it’s fascinating how just getting out there, living, working, digging in, networking, you can find your passion and then get the education to support it. And I think there’s so many people now that are starting to do that rather than just think, oh, I’ve got to check the box. I’ve got to go to school and get this degree. I’m hearing more and more people like you, Courtney, that are find your passion, get in work, some, find your why that fuels that passion and then educate yourself and become a student of that and become the best that you can. I think you’re living proof of that.

Courtney:

I love it. I think that’s perfect. And one thing that I hear from a lot of younger people, I mean, I know I’m young, but younger than me, that I employ actually, they’re in college, they’re kind of figuring their life out. And one thing that they say is, well, I don’t really know what I want to do. So I think I’m going to take a semester off and that’s fine, but I feel like a lot of people do have that fear of, they don’t know what they want to do, so they don’t want to put the time in for it yet. So find your passion first. Definitely. I mean, within the last two years, I’ve obtained my associate’s degree in business. I’ve become a certified dementia practitioner and I became licensed in the state of California for an administrator. So you find your passion and then the rest will follow. You just have to put that hard work in and have that integrity of just always doing the right thing. And it’ll fall in line.

Lucas:

You know, life is a securitas route. I mean it’s complicated. It doesn’t always go in a straight line. And this whole aspect of LinkedIn. Talk to us more. I don’t think you’re an avid LinkedIn poster. You don’t post every single day, these personal stories and messages, which I think that you should now seeing this. You have nearly 300 people that have liked it. And dozens and dozens and dozens of comments. Did you have any idea that you would get this kind of feedback and kind of what has come out of that?

Courtney:

No, I haven’t actually, you know, it’s the same exact verbiage and posts that I used on my own personal Facebook and whatnot. And so I just felt, I was excited for myself. I was proud of myself, I’ll say it. And so I wanted to kind of show that that’s a possible group for others and just share my story. And so I was truly shocked. I’m still getting notifications, so-and-so liked your post and it’s been quite sometime now. And so I just feel more grateful than anything that I’m able to kind of share and inspire that with others. And even if it doesn’t inspire one person, maybe they’ll share it with somebody else and then they’ll find their routes. So that’s what it’s all about. And I didn’t ever expect to hear from you guys either. So that’s great. I appreciate it.

Lucas:

Oh, well, we appreciate you. I mean, Josh, you know, part of our larger mission with Bridge The Gap which is bigger than Josh and Lucas. This is a Bridge The Gap movement that we have tried to create and bring people to the table and be the bridge. We’re connecting, point to point for different things in the industry, is changing the perception of what senior living is. And I think this example of simply, and it wasn’t even really about senior living, you’re just telling about your life and I think it’s things like that that are going to be the kind of the changing of the tide. Like there’s going to be ways that this gets out to a second-degree network, a third-degree network, and it’s going to reach people that had never thought about senior living because they’re drawn to your story. And I think there’s power in that. Have you seen any type of feedback from people that are not in the industry that you’re like, oh, I didn’t know that they were, would see this?

Courtney:

Oh yeah. Definitely people from, from far and wide, even people that I had stayed in touch with via LinkedIn, from high school even better in totally different career fields. Some of them, I mean, like you said, I’m not a very avid LinkedIn poster, but I do post frequently about my community and what we’re doing and my company. And so some them say, oh gosh, I didn’t even know what senior living was. And like, hello, I’ve been posting about it, but it takes that change in perspective for others to be intrigued by it. So I think that’s perfect. Yeah. 

Josh:

So Courtney, kind of to close out for me a couple more questions in your current role. What’s it been like as a young leader, community leader going through the difficulty over the past year and how have you kind of utilized a lot of your vast experiences on things like, life engagement, those activities to really draw on that, to provide great services and comfort to the residents through difficult times that we’ve walked through?

Courtney:

Absolutely. I think that’s perfect. I think in the same turn since I am, a younger executive director for a community, I do bring a fresh set of eyes to things. I think it’s important to shift that stereotypical memory care environment that we have. And so really elevating the purpose that we have at our community. We have a great, it’s actually an award-winning program called spark. It’s a research-based methodology behind our programming that we offer here. And so I think just being able to attract and implement those really innovative techniques for our residents to have that betterment and that enrichment for their life is what it’s all about. And not just our residents, but our staff too. I think it’s important to come up with more engaging ways to increase our culture than just upkeep the party in the staff lounge. I think it’s important to attract it from all different levels because the more level so we attracted from, like I said, the further our reach grows. And so it’s important to pay attention to it by not just our residents, of course, they are our first and foremost focus, but our staff, our vendors, anybody that we can kind of expand our reach to from a different perspective is what I’m all about and how I’m trying to increase our visibility for our community, but senior living too.

Josh:

I love that. Well, outside of your day job too, I think I read correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re also known as an Alzheimer’s fundraising champion. What exactly does that mean?

Courtney:

Yes, of course. So it’s with the walk to end Alzheimer’s so depending on different tiers on how many funds that you fundraise, you get put into a different tier of a category. So I’m a grand champion with the Alzheimer’s Association last year, I was on their board for the walk itself for the team retention captain. So just whatever way we can become involved. Like I said, I am all about the community partnerships. Some people call them competitors. I like to call them partners because we all have that common goal of how we can serve. And so I think it’s so important to just network, continue to network, continue to connect. What’s the next step? Who can I talk to next? And how can I knock that next door down and get the next resident in here and help the next writer reach a family?

Josh:

Oh man, Lucas, I love this. Courtney’s a living example of bridging all the gaps.

Lucas:

Yes, she is. Yes, she is. And another great example, to the people, to our listeners, that tune in every single week, you’re probably going to get tired of me saying this, but it is always been the people in the industry that have drawn me so close to the senior living industry. For me personally, being an outside vendor partner to the senior living industry and coming in it’s meaning people like Courtney, that is just, it’s a totally different way to develop relationships with different kinds of people that have such a wonderful heart and a great story. So, Courtney, we thank you for spending time with us today. We thank you for putting it out there on LinkedIn. And, is it safe to say that this is not going to be your last post like this?

Courtney:

I’m feeling very challenged and inspired, you know, so keep a lookout and you’ll be surprised. Yeah.

Lucas:

Well, I know that our listeners are going to want to connect with Courtney as well, obviously on LinkedIn, we’ll make sure that your information goes into our show notes. Also BTGvoice.com. You can check out all of our information, all of our programs, and links to this show in the transcript as well. Thanks, Courtney, for all you’re doing, and congratulations on your accomplishing all your goals.

Courtney:

Thank you guys so much. I appreciate it. And thank you guys for taking the time to truly bridge that gap and show the world all of this opportunity that senior living has, and hopefully draws more of those servants’ hearts in. So we can really, really serve this greater generation that we have the opportunity to.

Lucas:

Couldn’t have said it better myself. We are rooting for you. Thanks to all of our listeners for listening to another great episode of Bridge The Gap. 

Outro:

Thanks for listening to Bridge The Gap podcast with hosts, Josh Crisp and Lucas McCurdy. If you were informed, educated, or influenced by this episode, we want to know. Leave a comment on social media or contact us in the show notes. Powered by supporting partners, Propel Insurance, Enquire, LTC REIT, The Bridge Group Construction and Solinity. Learn more@btgvoice.com.

 

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172: Courtney Dean