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Funny business

Seabrook’s new associate executive director believes in the power of humor at work

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March 15th, 2018
Associate Executive Director Jennifer McNamara and resident Donald Giles take a ballroom dancing class at Seabrook, the Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J.

Jennifer McNamara and resident Donald Giles take a ballroom dancing class.

Jennifer McNamara may crack corny jokes, but she takes her new role as associate executive director at Seabrook seriously.

Having worked at the Tinton Falls, N.J., Erickson Living community since 2003, McNamara has dedicated her career to serving older adults and helping them live their best lives. Seabrook recently promoted her from resident life director to associate executive director. She now serves under new Executive Director Paula Digerness, who we featured last month.

McNamara started her career at Seabrook as a social worker. She was promoted to social work manager in 2007 and subsequently took on the role of social work peer team leader for all Erickson Living communities.

In 2015, McNamara was promoted to resident life manager. In 2016, she took over as the director of resident life, maintaining the cultural components of the department as well as incorporating the ancillary service areas of home support and certified home health.

McNamara is a licensed clinical social worker and received a master’s degree from Rutgers University.

“Jennifer’s proven track record of success at Seabrook over the past 14 years is indicative of her high level of performance,” says Executive Director Paula Digerness. “In addition to her outstanding leadership skills, she is passionate about our mission of helping seniors live better lives by creating a community where our residents can enjoy an active, engaging, and secure retirement lifestyle. We look forward to all that she brings to her new role.”

Let’s find out how McNamara feels about her new role.

Tribune: What are some of your previous roles in the industry and how have they prepared you for the associate executive director role at Seabrook, particularly your role as resident life director?

McNamara: I knew early on that serving seniors was my passion, so throughout college and graduate school I spent a lot of time volunteering in senior communities, immersing myself in the daily lives of residents. I worked as geriatric care manager before coming to Erickson Living 14 years ago, but the vast majority of my work in the field has been at Seabrook.

My years in geriatric social work have taught me to really listen and think through options before moving on a plan. As I moved into the resident life director role, I came to understand and appreciate the business aspect of the work that we do and how our financial success supports our ability to bring our mission, vision, and values to as many people as possible.

Tribune: How have you managed the transition from resident life director to make it a positive experience for everyone?

McNamara: The residents and staff have been incredibly supportive as I’ve gone through this transition.  The Resident Life department is a very strong, cohesive team, and they’ve been able to continue the amazing work they do every day without missing a beat.

We also have fantastic corporate partners that have been there to guide us through and lend a helping hand when needed. I wouldn’t have the opportunities I’ve had without the amazing people who live and work at Erickson.

Tribune: What do you find most rewarding about working in this industry?

McNamara: Every single day I get to connect with people in a meaningful way. I have the opportunity to make a difference, to be the person that turns an experience from good to great.  It’s an incredible privilege.

Tribune: What are your long-term goals as associate executive director at Seabrook?

McNamara: I’m excited to play a bigger role in our long-range planning projects under way in the community. Over the next few years, we will be adding and updating dining venues, fitness center space, outdoor recreational space, and so much more.

I’m also really looking forward to learning from Executive Director Paula Digerness, who has so much experience in the field and such a great way of connecting with people.

Tribune: In your opinion, what makes Seabrook so special?

McNamara: I think the best way to experience the magic of Seabrook is to do something as simple as walk down the halls. Community members and staff ask how you are, and they really want to know the answer.

If a resident is having a tough day, people will ask what they can do to make it better. If someone hasn’t seen you in a few days, they’ve noticed that you haven’t been around. I can’t walk around without getting hugs, hearing a new joke or the latest family story.

The residents and staff truly care for each other. It’s like nowhere else.

Tribune: As resident life director, you helped plan and coordinate many campus events and clubs. What are some of your favorites?

McNamara: My team, in partnership with other great departments like Dining Services and General Services, has put on some really fun events.

One of my favorites is Seabrook Day.

We do this each year around Grandparents Day, and residents and staff bring in their families for a huge outdoor street festival on campus. There are games, music, vendors, food, and shows. The township brings all types of vehicles for a Touch-a-Truck event; there are bounce houses and K-9 demonstrations from local law enforcement. The list goes on and on. We cap off the day with a butterfly release at our beautiful lake.

It’s amazing to see four generations celebrating life together.

Tribune: What’s one of your most endearing qualities?

McNamara: I don’t know if it’s endearing to anyone else, but I do try to infuse humor into my day and work as much as I can. We work really hard to create this amazing community; I think it’s also important to laugh a lot and smile often.

Those who work with me would agree that on more than one occasion I’ve told a really corny joke and then cracked myself up.

Tribune: What do you like to do when you’re not wearing your associate executive director hat?

McNamara: I have two wonderful five-year-old twin boys, Justin and Benjamin, and a beautiful four-year-old daughter, Ashley. They keep me and my husband Scott pretty busy.

We love exploring local parks and family activities in Monmouth County, and most nights and weekends in the summer you can find us on the beach.

One of my proudest moments was bringing one of my sons to our “Senior Prom” at Seabrook—a big party where our residents and student servers get all dressed up and dance the night away—and my son told me that when he grows up he wants to work at Seabrook.

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