Q&A With Kathy Speer
In Volume 11, Issue 1 of engage! magazine, we shared “A Day in the Life” of Margie McCloskey, UMC at Wesley by the Bay’s wellness nurse. Wesley by the Bay’s housing administrator, Kathy Speer, was also interviewed about her time with United Methodist Communities and her experience in senior living, with UMC, and working with affordable housing residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of her responses!
Q: How long have you been with Wesley by the Bay?
A: I’ve been the housing administrator for Wesley by the Bay for almost 4 years.
Q: How did you first get started in this field?
A: I worked in a nursing home and cared for my sick grandmother when I was right out of high school, and then I had a career in real estate management. Being the housing administrator of a senior community is the perfect marriage of two interests and careers that I love!
Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?
A: I come in early so I can have some quiet time to work and talk with my staff as they come in. We discuss what’s planned for the day. Sometimes we have crafts or activities scheduled, and we’re able to have residents in the office for face-to-face recertifications and meetings again. Most of our time is spent assisting our residents, be it answering their questions or helping them access programs. We are trying to simplify life for them and make them happy. Most of our interaction is with residents who don’t have friends or family support to help them navigate affordable housing and other senior programs. It’s very rewarding to help our residents get through, especially during the pandemic.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
A: Without a doubt, the most challenging time was at the height of the pandemic. We were all afraid, not sure what was right and what was wrong, and we were just trying our best to keep our residents calm and engaged. They were really scared and missed their families, and we were their lifeline.
Q: What kept you motivated?
A: Knowing that our residents were depending on us kept us going. A few times a week we would send out puzzles, treats, stories, and motivational sayings to stay strong. We would also have virtual picnics where we would deliver them containers of picnic and holiday foods to enjoy on their balconies or patios.
Q: What have the challenges of the last few years taught you?
A: I have a sign in my office that says, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” I think I have changed since the pandemic started because no matter how busy I am, I take the extra time to say hello, have a conversation, pat a resident’s back. I missed having the one-on-one interaction with them and seeing them now is not taken for granted.
Q: Is there one resident or experience who stands out as especially meaningful or memorable to you?
A: Yes, one resident named Frances W. She moved to The Shores and passed after a few weeks. When Wesley by the Bay was doing work for our Veterans for Valentine’s Day project, we stored some of the donations in Frances’ former apartment. She was the proud wife of a Marine, and I just knew how proud she’d be knowing we were working with veterans and using her apartment to do it. I emailed her daughter just to let her know that I was thinking of her mom and why. Frances’ daughter was very touched, and it made her day knowing that I’d remembered her mom.
Q: When you are working with seniors who pass away or are struggling with illnesses or dementia, how do you take care of yourself?
A: One thing that helps me if we are responsible for clearing out an apartment and disposing of someone’s belongings…if they had a plant in their apartment, I will rescue it and care for the plant in memory of the former resident.
Q: How would you describe the Wesley by the Bay team?
A: Always willing to go above and beyond! We are loyal to each other and our residents.
Q: Any other stories you’d like to share?
A: We are very quiet here at Wesley by the Bay. We’re never really on anyone’s radar, but we do wonderful work with our residents and within the Ocean City community. Our most recent project was with the Veterans’ Home in Vineland, NJ. We collected hearts and items for veterans for Valentine’s Day, and it was such a success. The whole Ocean City community got involved and we were even recognized by Philly ABC News as “Philly Proud.” We also collect Christmas gifts for underprivileged families and hold donation drives for the Ocean City Humane Society. We were just informed that Wesley by the Bay is going to be recognized with a garden brick thanking us for all our support over the years. We like to work hard and make UMC proud.