Meet the team of staff and volunteers behind Pioneer Network. You will find a diverse group of people all working together to help elders live in open, diverse, and caring communities.
Penny Cook, MSW, President/CEO: Penny’s commitment to changing the culture of aging and long-term care began early in her professional career as a social worker in Rochester, New York and continued as she moved to Colorado. She strongly believes that the care we provide to elders is directly related to the way we, as a society, view aging. She is passionate about spreading the message that we are in the midst of a revolution about how we age and where we do it. Penny comments that, “no matter whether people live, in nursing homes, assisted living communities or in their family home, we all deserve and should expect respectful and dignified care and support that is centered, directed and tailored to us as individuals.”
Penny previously served as the Manager of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in the Denver metropolitan region and as the Executive Director of the Colorado Culture Change Coalition. There she expanded the Coalition’s reach to look beyond nursing homes and brought the message of culture change to assisted living communities and home care organizations. Most recently she was the Director of Long Term Services and Supports for Colorado Access where she managed a state Medicaid contract to connect individuals to long-term services and supports. Penny received her Master of Social Work degree from the State University of New York at Albany and her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Binghamton University.
Cathy Lieblich, Director of Network Relations: Cathy’s responsibilities include liaison between Pioneer Network and the now 36 state culture change coalitions; managing special projects; and helping to plan and conduct educational programs. She has over 35 years of experience in the field of aging and long-term care including working on the national level for the National Council on the Aging, on the state level for a long-term care provider association, and on the local level for an area agency on aging, a university center on aging and a private foundation. Cathy was the founding director of the Florida culture change coalition, one of the first in the country, and currently serves on the coalition’s Steering Committee. She earned a Master of Arts degree in Social Service Administration from The University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from The Johns Hopkins University.
Joan Devine, Director of Education: Joan leads the development and implementation of educational programming for the organization. She is also a certified Eden Educator and Mentor and the owner and operator of JPDevine Consulting whose mission is to “support care partners on their journey 2 home.” A registered nurse and former activity professional, Joan has over 30 years of experience in healthcare having served in leadership positions in long-term and acute care settings since 1990. As an advocate for the LTC culture change movement, Joan serves as a frequent speaker at state and national forums and currently serves as a Director on the board of MC5 (Missouri Coalition Celebrating Care Continuum Change). Joan is the author of the book, “Word of the Week: Creating a Culture Change Dictionary, She earned a B.A. in Music Education/Music Therapy, a B.S. in Nursing and a Masters in Management.
Kathy Pilletteri, Executive Assistant: Kathy has been with Lifespan of Greater Rochester, a non-for-profit organization that provides information, guidance, and services that helps older adults take on both the challenges and opportunities of longer life, for the past 5 ½ years, serving as Program Assistant for two separate programs. One of her passions is working with the Ombudsman program, where highly trained volunteers advocate for residents who reside in nursing homes, assisted living and adult care homes. Kathy is also a certified Ombudsman. Prior to coming to Lifespan, Kathy was a dedicated stay-at-home mom for 16 years raising two beautiful girls. Kathy’s dedication and compassion for older adults fits right in with Pioneer Network’s vision: A culture of Aging that’s life-affirming, satisfying, humane and meaningful!
Carter Catlett Williams
COO/CFO Haven Nursing Center
Unsure whether she wanted to work in a nursing home after years in accounting, KaraLe Causey took a tour of CHRISTUS St. Joseph’s Home in 1993. At the end, she visited the chapel and looked up to see a banner with the words “I know the plans I have for you.” They were from Jeremiah 29:11, the very Bible verse she had read the night before. She took the job and began a new career devoted to the aging. “I call it providence,” KaraLe says now.
Born in Lubbock, Texas on Sept. 14, 1961, KaraLe was the eldest of three. Her father Bob Randy Dixon sold office equipment, while mother Bonnie Jane (Sooter) Dixon provided child care in their home. The family moved around a lot, eventually settling in Louisiana. It was a “sparse” childhood; with no money for meat, the family ate beans most days. Yet KaraLe remembers it fondly, listening to her dad playing guitar and singing “Scarlet Ribbon,” and joining him for duets in church.
With the help of scholarships and jobs in a photography studio and store, KaraLe became the first in her family to graduate from college, getting an accounting degree in three years. She worked for an accounting firm and then a company her parents started to service word processors and computers. But the business began to struggle and KaraLe left in 1993 to relieve her parents of the burden of her paycheck.
She knew she wanted to do something with “more purpose” than accounting and found her way to St. Joseph’s in Monroe, Louisiana, where she learned from the way the nuns constantly advocated for their patients. She was drawn to her next job at Haven Nursing Center in Colombia, Louisiana, in part because owner Robin Causey seemed dedicated to doing little things that meant a lot to residents, such as offering accessible washing machines and self-serve coffee in sitting areas. She would later marry him.
An article in an industry magazine turned her onto the Pioneer Network and its philosophy of person-centered care. She knew Haven had to be a part of it. She won a grant to pay for consulting by Action Pact, whose goal is to help change institutions into a “true home.” And when Haven took in 46 residents evacuated from Hurricane Katrina, her contact at Action Pact reached out to friends of Pioneer. KaraLe says it still brings tears to her eyes to think about how much help poured in.
KaraLe co-founded LEADER, a Louisiana group focused on person-centered aging communities loosely affiliated with Pioneer. Then she was asked to join Pioneer’s board. She now serves as chair. Like any good “mama,” KaraLe says she’s most proud of her kids Hallie Causey, 17, and Kaleb Legg, 25, and Corbin Legg, 28, from her first marriage. But she’s also so proud of the work of Haven’s staff, who have revolutionized their facility. Looking to the future, she sees herself working with them and others, “always looking ahead on this culture change journey and this mission of changing the culture in aging in our society.”
Board Vice Chair
Regional Vice President, Sodexo Senior Living
Officially, Todd Andrews’ career in senior living began in 1993, when the newly minted public administration graduate was hired by what is now Sodexo. In fact, his training began as a high school student in in Vestal, N.Y., when he volunteered to live with his maternal grandmother, who had begun to experience mild cognitive and health issues.
“Admittedly, I liked the idea of being out of my parents’ house and independent,” Andrews says with a laugh. “What was truly important was that I could help my grandmother live as safe and enjoyable a life as possible.”
Although Andrews stayed close to home to continue assisting his family while attending college at nearby Binghamton University, his career with Sodexo has kept him on the move literally and figuratively. With his steadily increasing experience has come a series of new responsibilities and address changes. Andrews’ most recent relocation brought him to Richmond, Va., where he now oversees 105 Sodexo senior living partnerships in the Southeast and Midwest portion of the United States
Along the way, Andrews has helped Sodexo redefine the concept of senior living, with quality of life underscoring its approach to serving residents, regardless of their individual lifestyle and care needs.
Indeed, Andrews dislikes using the adjective “home-like” in characterizations of Sodexo communities.
“This is home—the place where you want to be, not something you’ve given up,” he explains. “It’s our job to provide that kind of experience.”
Andrews has stayed on the move in other ways. His passion for golf has taken him to many of the world’s most famous golf courses, while a love for drag racing has sent him barreling down quarter-mile tracks in just seconds. Andrews has owned and raced various types of cars in the Mid-Atlantic over the years, including dragsters that can achieve speeds of more than 200 mph.
But family still comes first for Andrews, who has temporarily shelved his racing interests to spend more time with his wife, Melissa Andrews, CEO of the senior advocacy group Leading Age Virginia, and their daughter, Eliza. Andrews also has a son, Jordan, 23, and a daughter, Taylor, 17, from a previous marriage.
Andrews welcomed the opportunity to join Pioneer Network’s Board of Directors, citing the synergy between the non-profit group’s groundbreaking efforts to promote cultural change in older adult services, and Sodexo’s commitment to providing top-quality senior living communities.
“It’s a natural fit,” he says. “The insights we share have immeasurable benefits to the people we serve.”
And while the landscape for serving older adults continues to evolve, Andrews often recalls the daily joys and challenges of helping his grandmother.
“She’s still my moral compass,” he says. “If there’s a decision to make or something we’re looking at, I’ll ask myself, ‘Would she be OK with this?’ I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better ‘mentor’ for a career so focused on helping people make the most of their lives.”
Vice President of Financial Services, Vivage Quality Health Partners (Retired)
Mary Fuentes was practically destined for a career in aging. As a young child, when she wasn’t riding her tricycle and jumping rope with other kids on her street, she was spending time at the Offield Nursing Home in Denver, where her mother was assistant administrator. The owner, who had lost her son in World War II, took Mary under her wing, letting her hang out in the kitchen, play with residents and “do all sorts of things,” Mary says. Among her early memories are those of nursing home staff hiding her whenever inspectors came.
Mary recalls those days fondly but notes that long-term care homes then were very different than they are today. They had nurses and management, but no social workers, activity directors or the many others now so central to the person-centered culture championed by Pioneer Network.
The only child of Bernice and Carroll Drum, Mary grew up in North Denver. She concedes she was quite spoiled as a youngster. Among the spoilers was her grandmother Anna, a former teacher, who spent summers with Mary and her family and helped Mary memorize state capitals as she barreled around the porch on her trike.
After completing elementary and high school in Denver, Mary earned a degree in liberal arts from St. Louis University, while also working as a nurse’s aide. She returned to Denver after college and taught at Holy Family High School for four years. She then worked with the Archdiocese of Denver in its youth ministry program. She married Andy Fuentes in 1972 and started a family. The couple met in high school but only came to know one another years later when they were both helping a high school youth group.
Mary returned to school for accounting classes, an MBA and a CPA license. Her finance credentials led her into work as an auditor for Deloitte Haskins & Sells, an accounting manager with the North American division of an international software firm, and vice president of financial services for Piñon Management, a long-term care company that merged with a similar firm into Vivage Senior Living.
At Piñon, she met Jeff Jerebker, the company’s founder and CEO and a leader in long-term care and the culture change movement, both in Colorado and nationally. Jeff encouraged her onto the board of the Pioneer Network, where she serves as treasurer and a member of the finance and audit committees. She is passionate about the importance of care models that treat people respectfully, allow them choices and “place the person before the task.”
Retired from Vivage after 14 years, Mary loves to spend time with her family, which now includes son Brian, his wife Megan and their two children Rona and Rio, and daughter Brittany, her husband Scott and their children AJ and Maya.
She enjoys walking, reading and playing games with her grandchildren. Her goal in retirement, as it has been throughout her life, is to “find ways to contribute meaningfully” and “to help others in small and big ways” — reminiscent of how her mother helped friends and neighbors with rides, cooking and child care. Mary is pleased and proud that Brian and Brittany also are dedicated to “helping people and making the world a better place” through their respective careers as a sustainable architect and a social worker employed in palliative care.
Nursing home physician
When geriatrics physician Jonathan Evans was a child, he visited his beloved aunt in a nursing home, and was troubled and confused because she clearly was not herself.
Her eyes seemed empty. Her head lolled. She didn’t seem to know who he was.
“I knew something was wrong then, and now I suspect she was being chemically restrained,” Dr. Evans recalls.
Evans was the second of four children, born in 1963 to a real estate developers Jack and Joan Evans, who inherited J.E. Management from Jack Evans’ parents. His maternal grandparents lived up the street in their Bethesda, Maryland, neighborhood.
“I had lots of aunts and uncles, and even my great-grandmother was alive when I was little, so I was blessed to receive unconditional love from all of them,” he says.
Evans developed deep relationships with both sets of grandparents as a child, spending most weekends with them. Evans’s grandfather told his grandson to be unafraid of growing old, quoting a Japanese proverb: “The sun setting is as beautiful as the sun rising.”
Evans was 11-years old when his paternal grandmother died of cancer of the larynx. Looking back, Evans thinks her early symptoms were ignored or misdiagnosed.
“Her death had a big impact on me, directly and indirectly,” he says. “I saw her die slowly, her life whittled away over two years. I saw first-hand feeding tubes and things like that. I think that was what interested me in empowering the people I love to protect them from ignorant but unintentional medical harm.”
So, Jonathan Evans decided to become a physician. In 1989, he graduated from the Mayo Medical School, remained there to complete his residency in internal medicine and geriatric medicine, and was a staff physician and associate professor of medicine from 1994 to 2000. After being awarded a Bush Medical Fellowship in 2000, Evans earned a Master’s degree in public health at the University of Minnesota, then directed geriatric and palliative medicine and a geriatric medicine fellowship training program at the University of Virginia from 2001 to 2009.
He left to become a full-time, long-term care physician in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he now is medical director of two skilled nursing communities and a local hospice. He lives there with his wife, Mary Evans, a chief medical officer for long-term care. They have three children.
Evans sees relationships as an essential part of health care. He was among the earliest advocates of the culture change movement, persuading elder communities to shift from physician- and facility-oriented programming to person-centered care. He considers the details of an elder’s life story as essential as a medical history.
“Most medicine is meant to cheat death,” Evans says, “but in geriatrics, we accept death as normal. Our goal is to help people live and not just survive.”
Jessica Luh Kim
Director of the Resident Experience
Schlegel Villages Kitchener
At an early age Jessica Luh Kim became fascinated by the similarities and differences between cultures. She grew up in a small-town in Ontario, Canada. It was a close-knit community where neighbors gathered on porches in the evenings, and kids played hopscotch on the sidewalk. But it was not ethnically diverse, and her family stood out.
Jessica was an only child raised by first-generation Chinese parents. Far from their home country, they often watched Asian dramas and celebrated key Chinese holidays along with the Canadian holidays they adopted in their new home.
“Growing up in Canada, we have our own unique culture,” she says.
Jessica says at times she was bullied for the color of her skin. That experience influenced her desire to work with people who are marginalized, discriminated against or not valued—as seniors often are. She spent many weekends hanging out at the local hospital where her father, Rooney Luh, worked. Most of his patients were seniors, and she felt accepted by them. By the time she entered McMaster University, she knew she wanted to study gerontology and psychology, a combined degree.
After college, Jessica worked for the Alzheimer Society, where she fell in love with working with older adults and people living with disabilities or chronic conditions.
While finishing her Master’s degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies at the University of Waterloo, she married her husband, Peter Kim. At age 30, they had their first daughter, Abigail, then Eden two years later. She and Peter, a second-generation Korean-Canadian, affectionately refer to their children as “Chorean,” because they’re half Chinese, half Korean Canadians.
Growing up, both Jessica and Peter were taught to respect, value, and honor their elders. Jessica worries that older adults today are not as respected and valued in society. It’s no wonder that she is keen to address the culture of aging in her current job as director of the resident experience for Schlegel Villages, an Ontario, Canada-based group of long-term care and retirement communities.
She learned of the Pioneer Network through acquaintances from the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program at the University of Waterloo, where she worked during and after her graduate program.
Pioneer’s focus on changing the culture of aging in the 21st century dovetails with Jessica’s personal goals. “I want to create a world where people are caring and accepting and inclusive of all different peoples,” she says. “We all desire love. We all desire a sense of connection and a sense of belonging and that’s a world I would love to have a hand in creating.”
Juliet Holt Klinger
Senior Director Dementia Care
Brookdale Senior Living
In high school, Juliet Holt Klinger learned about dementia as a volunteer at a nursing home, back when people with behavioral issues often were tied to chairs. Later in college, she studied under some of the first experts in the emerging field of dementia care, and she began to understand why those people were tied to chairs, and how there could be better ways to treat them. She’d found her calling.
Though Juliet’s grandparents had all passed by the time she was 3, she grew up knowing what it meant to be a caregiver. Her mother was often debilitated with severe rheumatoid arthritis and she eventually passed at the age of 61, when Juliet was only 27.
Community was something Juliet’s parents ingrained in their three daughters. Juliet was the youngest, following Susan and Eva. Instead of living on the upscale side of Ames, Iowa, where both parents were professors at Iowa State University, they lived in a rambling historic home in the blue-collar end.
The girls, with their succession of dogs, guinea pigs inherited from academic research projects and five cousins nearby, all had idyllic childhoods. Summer vacations were spent trailer-camping out West where Jack Holt, a bacteriologist, and Bess-Gene, who specialized in early childhood education, taught reverence for the natural world. “My folks were pretty radical for the area, not so much for the time,” Juliet recalls. “I think my parents would have described themselves as beatniks.”
Undergraduate college took Juliet 10 years as she held down multiple jobs as a nursing assistant at the University of Iowa Hospital’s trauma center and as a social worker in nursing homes, including the first secure dementia unit in the state.
After graduating from the University of Iowa in 1992 with a bachelor’s in social work and a minor in women’s studies, and an aging studies certificate, Juliet moved with friends to Fort Collins, Colo. At the University of Northern Colorado, she enrolled in one of the country’s first gerontology Master’s programs.
Following graduate school, Juliet got a job in Chicago managing a multi-site division for Marriott Senior Living. After a couple years, Marriott sold that business to Sunrise, and Juliet decided she needed a break. She took a job running an assisted living memory care community on the south side of Chicago.
It was around then that Juliet met Christian Klinger. He was born in Ecuador and his family immigrated to Chicago when he was a baby. They hit it off immediately. “We had what is largely considered to be the best wedding ever in downtown Chicago with a really lovely boat reception on the lake,” Juliet says with a laugh. “Just had a great life ever since.”
The two have been married more than 11 years and adopted a Shi Tzu/Poodle/Maltese mix, Ruby. Plenty of nieces on both sides and one nephew—Christian has two brothers—keep them surrounded by family.
After a year of working as an executive director on the south side, Juliet was offered a job leading a memory care division at Alterra Senior Living. Several mergers and acquisitions later, she runs the dementia division of more than 500 communities for Brookdale Senior Living, the country’s largest provider of senior care. There, she oversees a rich universe of engagement, focusing on person-centered care. “We’ve been able to create much more home-like settings in assisted living,” Juliet notes. “We’ve come a long way.”
Cheryl likes to say that she “got into geriatric care by chance and stayed by choice.” She began her more than 30-year career in a nursing home in 1981 in Sheboygan, WI, a recently minted licensed practical nurse. She had hoped to land a hospital job, but the nursing home was the only gig available.
Listening to her patients tell stories about their pasts, she realized that caring for the elderly was work that “fed her heart and soul.” Elders, she believes, have given us so much and ask for so little; she feels that the very least we can do is provide them with exceptional service. Which is why she’s worked hard to promote her belief that elders deserve reverence, support, and honor.
Born and raised in Sheboygan, Wis., Cheryl was the youngest of five children. Her father, a factory worker, and her mother, a homemaker, were so proud of her when she became the first in the family to complete college. She earned her first degree as a licensed practical nurse from Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, WI in 1980. This degree, like the many to follow, was paid through student loans.
Cheryl jokes that her loans will not be paid off until ten years after her death: Her relentless thirst for knowledge led to a Doctoral degree in Education as well as Bachelor’s degrees in Business and Nursing and Master’s degrees in Health Care Administration and Nursing. These degrees from Cardinal Stritch University, University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee), and Walden University, added 14 years of higher education and ten letters —EdD, MS, RN, CNE—to her name.
Over three decades, she’s managed many nursing homes and assisted living homes.
Along the way she’s built a family with her husband, Bob Kruschke, whom she married in 1980. Together they have three children, Michelle, Joe, and Jeff. Jeff, who died when he was four years old, has been “the family angel,” she says. They raised their family in Sheboygan, where they enjoy the outdoors, especially fishing, together.
As a well-known expert on gerontology, Cheryl’s nation-wide presentations have brought to a wide audience issues related to eldercare, particularly financial problems that force care facilities to make bad choices. Her pet peeves include the firing of hands-on caregivers to pay for less beneficial “bells and whistles,” such as fancy furniture, art work, and huge administrative salaries, as well as nursing homes that ramp up quality and care only when surveyors are in the building.
Cheryl’s love of learning feeds her love of teaching. In 2008, she moved from Wisconsin, where she worked in nursing homes, to Denver, Colo., where she was hired by the Loretto Heights School of Nursing, Regis University. As an associate professor, she teaches on-line classes to hundreds of nursing students. In 2018, she published a textbook focused on leadership skills for LPNs who work with the aging population.
In recent years, Cheryl has brought her nursing and caregiving experience home to help her husband, who has late-stage Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Cheryl and Bob enjoy reminiscing about their long and happy lives.
New England QIN QIO,
Early in her career, Marguerite McLaughlin worked as a recreational therapist at St. Elizabeth Home in Providence, R.I. a nursing home for women, where her favorite coworker was a Husky with light brown hair and blue eyes named Annie.
She first met Annie during an intergenerational project she organized with teachers from a local day care. Each senior was paired with a child and assigned a sled team to follow remotely from the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska. A local sled dog association came to visit, bringing Husky puppies from its kennel.
“They actually hooked the Huskies up to the ladies’ wheelchairs, and the kids would sit in their laps and go for a ride!” she recalls.
The experience led her to adopt Annie, who worked with her in the nursing home for more than a decade, bringing therapeutic and sometimes transformative care to the residents there. It also solidified her decision to devote her life to culture change in long-term care.
Marguerite was born in Providence, R.I., to Charles, a lawyer, and Marguerite, a nurse. She is third eldest of five children. She recalls fond memories at the beach with her family, packing enough food to stay until evening and admire the sunset. Her mom would fire up their Coleman stove, make sloppy joes and they would eat nestled in their sweatshirts under the moon.
Her parents were married for almost 60 years. Charles died in 2011. Her mother, now 92, volunteers at a food bank on Saturdays and still drives. She says she is her hero. Both Marguerites still live in Providence today.
She studied recreational therapy at Springfield College in Massachusetts and got her Master’s degree in holistic therapy at Salve Regina University. She later moved on to Medicare’s Quality Improvement Organization for Rhode Island and got involved with a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pilot study to help other QIO’s across the nation learn culture change and apply it.
This led her to the American Healthcare Association in Washington, D.C., telecommuting from Rhode Island, where she continued to create educational tools and resources for nursing homes to implement the person-centered approach to elder care that she learned at St. Elizabeth.
“I loved the sense of community I experienced working in a nursing home,” Marguerite says.
She was so influenced by the women she worked with there that she converted to the Episcopal faith in 1992, a guiding light in her life that has increased in importance throughout the years. The Episcopal Church founded St. Elizabeth, which now provides comprehensive care services including housing and home care for all seniors and people with physical disabilities throughout Rhode Island.
Marguerite and her spouse have four adult children and three grandchildren. She credits their family ritual of weekly Sunday dinners for their closeness. They also cherish time together on their back porch, enjoying a beautiful view, a good meal and a glass of wine.
“In culture change, we teach it’s all about the relationship,” she says. “I think what’s really remarkable about our house is that it’s really a very incredible relationship of people caring and being respectful and loving each other.”
Retired President & CEO of The Eden Alternative
When Chris Perna was co-captain of Malden Catholic High School’s football team in the late 1970s, he had to juggle that commitment with a bigger responsibility—helping to care for his father, who had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Chris took turns with his mother and sister sleeping on a cot in his dad’s bedroom, so they would be there when his father got out of bed in the middle of the night.
It was then, Chris says, that he “realized the importance of planning for the potential of needing long-term care.” His dad, a cement mason, had been the sole breadwinner, and when he was no longer able to work, the loss of his income combined with costs of caring for him hit the family hard; for a time, they relied on Medicaid and food stamps. Later, when Chris sold long-term care insurance at MedAmerica, he was “really committed to the mission” of the product.
Chris grew up as the second-youngest of eight siblings in a Catholic family in “middle-class, blue-collar” Malden, Massachusetts, where he was an intensely driven student-athlete. Just after finishing ninth grade in 1976, he was playing summer baseball when his coach’s younger sister Mary first noticed him from the stands.
Chris was the first in his family to attend college; he and Mary both went to Brown University. He was initially a premed student but switched gears to a new passion—business and entrepreneurship. After graduation, Chris returned to the Boston area, where he combined his interests in business and health at Blue Cross Blue Shield. In August 1984, eight years after they first met, Chris and Mary were married. To this day, he says, “Mary is my best friend.”
During the holiday season of 1991, Chris and Mary were anticipating the birth of their first child. Just before Christmas, the soon-to-be dad was at the office when he suffered a sudden seizure and was found to have an inoperable brain tumor, a diagnosis that echoed his father’s.
Every morning before work for six weeks, Chris drove to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he was locked into a machine that administered a brand-new form of targeted radiation therapy. His son Jonathan is now 26 years old, and Chris has been a cancer survivor for as many years.
Chris and Mary had three more children—Cameron, Christopher and Madeleine. Chris continued to work in health insurance and was promoted from vice president in Boston directly to president and chief executive at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Utica-Watertown, NY. The family eventually put down roots in Rochester when he assumed the role of president and chief operating officer of MedAmerica Companies, a long-term care insurance provider.
In June 2010, after 25 years of senior management experience in the health insurance sector, Chris became president and chief executive of The Eden Alternative, which was founded by Bill and Jude Thomas to improve quality of life in elder care. Chris led the organization for eight years before entering early retirement, which he has always aspired to do.
Chris looks forward to enjoying time with his wife and children and exploring the outdoors. He particularly wants to deepen his spiritual life at Browncroft Community Church in Rochester, which has framed his orientation toward his work: “The Bible says, ‘honor your elders,’ and I don’t think we as a society do a very good job of that.”
WRC Senior Services
Barbara didn’t set out to work in aging, but looking back, her career path seems preordained. The baby of her family by more than a decade, she grew up determined to keep up with big sister Diana. She was also closer to her mom, her aunts and her Grandma Stella than to most kids her age. “I was always around older people,” she says. “I could talk to anybody older than me.”
Barbara Jean Sepich was born October 26, 1959 and raised in Bethel Park, PA, the daughter of Raymond Sepich, a drafting engineer for Westinghouse and Catherine (K.K.) Sepich, a homemaker. Sports were her first love; she played volleyball, softball and golf in high school, and golf and rugby in college. But she was also a good student and a closet Barbie fan, who spent hours decorating homes for her fashion dolls. She went to Penn State planning to major in plant science – until ten weeks in a fungus lab convinced her to switch to health planning and administration.
After graduating in 1981, Barbara did stints as an athletic trainer and as a coordinator for emergency medical services. She spent a year at Kelly Healthcare, a provider of home care services, before going to work for Schneider Health Services. There, as director of operations, she managed over 400 long-term care beds and discovered that long-term care was where her talents and interests aligned.
Over the next two decades, Barbara rose through the ranks of the industry, taking on increasing responsibilities at a variety of hospitals and senior care companies in Pennsylvania. By 2011, she was in her fourth year as president of Cornerstone Senior Communities, which operates assisted living facilities, and in her sixth year on the Board of a non-profit senior care provider Cedars Group of Companies. She had also established a reputation as a start-up and turnaround specialist.
But personally and professionally Barbara was ready for a change. Her 23-year marriage had ended, and overwork was starting to take its toll. So she left Cornerstone and Cedars to begin to rethink her goals. In 2013, she took a job at Genesis Rehab Services which sent her to China to oversee the building of acute rehab, senior living and wellness centers. It was a great experience, but an unexpected death in her family made her realize she wanted to be closer to home.
In 2015, Barbara moved to rural Pennsylvania to work with WRC Senior Services, which provides the full continuum of services for seniors. Over the past couple years, she’s gotten into natural health and has achieved a balance in her life that allows time for friends, her four cats, indulging her lifelong love of jazz and even the occasional motorcycle ride with her new fiancé, Dennis. It helps, she says, that her focus today is less on accomplishment than on leadership and the legacy she can leave behind.
“My reason for work, for getting on the board is about how do I make that meaningful difference across the most lives,” she says. “It’s about giving back to all the seniors in my life what they’ve given me and about keeping the sparkle in their eyes one day longer.”
Founder/President, It’s Never 2 Late
Jack York was a corporate executive riding the semiconductor boom, but his life took a swerve in 1999 when his mother turned 80.
To celebrate she took all her children and grandchildren on a three-day cruise to Mexico. The last night, she and Jack stared up at the moon from the top deck of the ship. He was smoking a cigar; she sneaked a cigarette. Dorothy York was content. She told him everything she had wanted to happen in her life had come true. Three days later, her children surprised her with another party in San Diego with 250 friends and relatives. Later that night, she had a massive stroke.
Jack saw her again before she died. He recalls holding her hand and feeling a very clear parting message from her. “Her spirit was saying, ‘This is not what you are supposed to be doing. It’s time to get out,” he recalls.
And so it was that what he came to see as his mother’s impeccably timed death sparked a new life for Jack. In search of the same kind of fulfillment she felt on that moonlit night, he left his job and started a new kind of technology company aimed at helping seniors live more dignified, connected lives. In her honor, it’s called It’s Never 2 Late.
Jack was born in Fullerton, CA to Dorothy and Jim York in 1959, the youngest of five children. Growing up he spent his summers in Nebraska enjoying the same wide-open fields and down-to-earth values that shaped his parents’ upbringing. His father, a civil engineer, was soft-spoken and hard-working. His mother was soulful and fun, he says.
Jack, an astute salesman by day and wisecracking party planner by night, took after them both. “Oscar Wilde has a line: ‘Take what you do very seriously, but don’t take yourself that seriously.’ That is a motto that I very much live by,” he says.
Jack went to California State Long Beach and double majored in Journalism and Business. A job as an electronics recruiter brought him to Northern California in 1984, where he soon moved into sales and marketing in the fast-growing semiconductor industry.
In Silicon Valley, Jack rode the tech wave, working for the same company as it was bought and sold. He eventually rose to vice president for international sales. But he did not want to do it forever.
In the wake of his mother’s death, he moved to Denver with his wife, Gizelle, and their three young children—JP, Nathan, and Perrin. The next chapter of his life was dedicated to raising his family and building his own company.
While his children provided him daily joy, the business proved difficult to launch. His brother, who cofounded the company with him, died from cancer in 2003. And Jack steadily sunk his savings into iN2L, which took ten years to become profitable.
Now, nearly two decades after its founding, iN2L works with more than 2,500 senior living communities in the US and abroad. As his company has grown, York has demoted himself in recent years from chief executive to a self-described “company evangelist” or “company minstrel.”
He particularly enjoys promoting the company and quality senior care abroad—an endeavor that has led to some fulfilling long-distance partnerships. He made fast friends in 2016 with a Cameroonian senior service provider named Francis Nichii he met at an international conference in Australia. A small personal donation from Jack led to a goat-rearing program and then a fundraising campaign to build Cameroon’s first senior center.
In April 2017, Jack travelled to Elemighong Village to see its grand opening. It’s called the Dorothy York Senior Center. This, as she surely knows looking down, is what he’s supposed to be doing.
President, Varsity Marketing, LLC
Like so many others, Wayne Langley came to the field of aging services more or less by accident. While working with health care organizations early in his career, he became the corporate liaison with a senior living provider based in Kansas. Over the coming months, he realized the opportunities for growth within the emerging field of aging services. There was much to learn early on, and the learning continues to this day. For three decades, Wayne has surfaced solutions that deliver business results and sustain nonprofit missions around the world.
Although a native of Alabama, Wayne has resided in three different time zones. His travels for work and pleasure have allowed visits to every state and four continents, including a three-week journey around the world. He is blessed to have connected with so many amazing people from diverse cultures, with disparate world views.
Wayne worked full time throughout much of his time at college, except during football season when he was anchoring the offensive line for his alma mater, Mid-America Nazarene University in Olathe, KS. His employer’s CEO at the time (let’s call him “Tom”) — saw something in Wayne’s leadership abilities, so Wayne quickly moved into a warehouse manager role. Tom mentored Wayne during his entire university experience, with a focus on strong personal discipline and doing the right things for the right reasons. It was a terrific learning platform for the roles yet to come throughout Wayne’s career.
Taking on fresh challenges has always been a driver of change for Wayne. One of the more inspiring phrases one can say to him is, “It can’t be done.” This is especially true when it comes to taking on an underperforming team or building a team from scratch. Helping others realize their personal goals while contributing to overarching organizational success continues to motivate him. Communicating a clearly articulated purpose, embracing well-conceived plans for execution, leaning on strong cultures of accountability and celebrating success have become markers in his road map for driving excellence.
Members of Pioneer Network’s team were introduced to Wayne through a mutual friend at Providence Health & Services of Washington State. They invited him to attend an annual conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, to check out the work and the people committed to making a difference in the senior living space. Wayne was attracted to the members’ vision and even more inspired by their passion for advancing Pioneer’s commitment to doing things differently.
Wayne and his wife, Kelly, reside in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, where they enjoy the Rocky Mountains, volunteering, family and travel. Five children and eight grandchildren across the country occupy much of their discretionary time and frequent-flyer miles. When there is time, Wayne loves to find his way to solitude — usually involving a pair of snow skis, hiking boots or the worn-out mountain bike.
Vice President Programs & Operations, The SCAN Foundation
Long Beach, CA
As René considered his professional path as a young teenager, he came upon a book that described the role of a social worker as leading a group home for children. That sounded appealing so he began his studies in social sciences at the Catholic Polytechnic College for Social Work in Munich, Germany, his home town. During his later teenage years, he spent every summer and winter as camp counselor, so this felt like the right path. However, during his studies he became interested in serving persons with mental health and addiction problems, which became his study focus.
Right after completing college as Diplom Social Pedagogue, René needed to complete 18 months of what is called civil service in Germany, an alternative to military training. He was able to do this service through a U.S. volunteer program, first as a counselor at the Dundalk (Baltimore) Youth Service Center, and then at a Catholic Worker community in Houston. At the Catholic Worker, he quickly learned Spanish, as many of the people served were immigrants from Central America. As his civil service time neared its end, he ended up spending a weekend with a family whose father was a judge. He offered René to have a consultation with an immigration lawyer and that led to him remaining in the U.S.
Once René’s service was completed, he was offered a position as a drug and alcohol addiction counselor at the Houston County Hospital for the next two years. Then he followed a life long dream and took his first trip to South and Central America. After the three months immersion, he packed up his belongings, bought an old Corolla and drove to Los Angeles.
René ‘s first job in California was to start the West Hollywood Homeless Program, where he stayed for five years. Then followed a seven-year engagement as director of HIV Services at a drug treatment center, where he grew programs from four to nineteen.
As he always felt a strong pull toward South America, René wrote grant applications and after some success moved to Salvador, Brazil, where he started a non-profit organization serving families where the parent (usually a single mom) was living with HIV.
Just before moving to Brazil, René adopted his first son (a second son was adopted in 2004). To assure his son had access to an American education, they moved back to Los Angeles in 2001. René was offered a position at the County of Los Angeles Department of Health Services, first as a state grants manager in the Office of AIDS Programs and Policy, followed by the Mental Health Liaison for the Department at the executive office. From there, he was asked to serve as Director of Board Relations, as part of the Department of Health Services Executive Team. In this role, his new boss was Dr. Bruce Chernof, who a few years later left the County to start a new foundation (yes, The SCAN Foundation), which has as a primary focus, creating a system of care for older adults that ensures their independence and dignity.
René has worked at the Foundation for over 10 years, gaining deep knowledge of the aging network and the policies that determine how the current system functions. During this time, he also served eight years on the Board of Grantmakers in Aging.
So, while he never actually worked with children, as he set out to as teenager. Instead René has gained a great appreciation for services for older adults. The SCAN Foundation is deeply committed to assure older adults, particularly those living with chronic conditions and functional limitations, have access to person-centered care.
|Pioneer Network would like to thank Memory Well for telling the life stories of our Board members.|