I started working at around 17, not long after I got my driver’s license. My first job was as an activities assistant for a nursing home, making a whopping $6.25 an hour.
It’s an absurd amount now, but as a teenager in the early 2000s it felt amazing. I was just happy I could afford my own comic books, along with the gas money it took to drive myself to buy them. My parents were equally ecstatic.
What the job lacked in pay it made up for in other things. The Activities Department felt like another family and we loved connecting with the folks we were there to help, another extension of that. Until joining the staff at Watermark about two decades later, it was the only rewarding job I’d ever had.
The 100-bed facility included long- and short-term residents, some of whom were there for physical rehab and others who called it home. I worked there through the beginning of college, eventually cracking $8.50.
The money didn’t matter. During those years I learned important life skills like how to give a decent manicure and perfect the art of calling Bingo; residents took nothing more seriously than that game, playing at least three times a week.
The job was also great because we were the “fun ones.” Residents took into account that we didn’t wake them up in the middle of the night to give them medicine or insist they walk down a long corridor while they were in pain. We just played games and chatted.
That was probably what I loved the most, connecting with them individually. My job included one-on-one visits with a specified portion of residents for designated periods of time, which sometimes meant talking about their lives or others just sitting together in silence watching TV.
It was all done to document and monitor their cognitive state, but for me it was like visiting dozens of grandparents who assured you that you were their favorite. Who wouldn’t love that?
Explaining my job as a high schooler wasn’t always easy, though. A lot of my peers thought it was weird that I loved working at a nursing home, and I still field questions when I talk about how impactful the experience was.
Usually it’s whether or not it was sad, and it was at times, but I rarely lost sight of the fact that I was helping make someone’s life better, which was especially important at its end. That far outweighed whatever else I might be feeling.
Those residents helped shape my outlook on life in my most formative years, something I’m still grateful for. They instilled a very important lesson in me that I hold onto today: to respect my elders.
Listening to their stories taught me not just about their lives, but my own. It showed me that the kind of patience, resolve and wisdom that can only come with the passage of time is an asset, not a liability.
Cultures around the world consistently honor their aging populations, both for what they’ve done and what they can still do, but not ours. By and large it seems like the country’s default is to cast the elderly as incompetent or a burden.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot when it comes to President Joe Biden, who at age 80 is the nation’s oldest sitting president. Political pundits of all sorts remind Americans of that constantly, questioning every gaffe and dismissing years of successful service because of a number.
I get it. Biden isn’t a young man, but I was proud to support him in 2020 because he’s a good one. I don’t think he’s been a perfect president, but I’ve never questioned he was serving this country with integrity. That’s why I plan to support him again in 2024.
I’d hoped a changing of the guard would happen for both major parties next year, because I don’t think anyone wants to relive 2020, and I think that would’ve been Biden’s preference as well. But if Republicans are intent on nominating a twice-impeached, four-times-indicted insurrectionist for their choice, mine couldn’t be clearer.
In this issue we examine something a little lighter than ageism or presidential politics, the local kava scene. We highlight LGBTQ+-owned and inclusive establishments in Tampa Bay and Central Florida, detailing how they’re cultivating community.
In Tampa Bay news, we look at Halloween on Central 3 and Come OUT St. Pete’s postponement. In Central Florida, the City of Orlando announces it will purchase the Pulse property. In arts and entertainment, we chat with “Drag Race” royalty Ginger Minj and Eureka O’Hara, along with “Star Trek” legend William Shatner.
Watermark strives to bring you a variety of stories, your stories. Please stay safe, stay informed and enjoy this latest issue.