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Deerfield Ridge’s Rebecca Tester Named 2024 Hero by North Carolina Assisted Living Association 

Several staff members at  Deerfield Ridge Assisted Living in Boone surround their “hero,” Rebecca Tester, during a time of celebration at their facility. From left: Amanda Berry, Ann Workman, Lisa York, Rebecca, Amanda Hall, Julianne Peebles, Alethia Griffin and Kimberly Williams. Photo submitted.

By Sherrie Norris

Anyone who has resided at Deerfield Ridge Assisted Living in Boone, or anyone who has had a loved one there in recent years, understands clearly why Rebecca Tester has been named a 2024 North Carolina Assisted Living Association Hero.

 The announcement came recently, much to the delight of the facility staff, residents, their family members and regular visitors — and it certainly came as no surprise.

Tester, whose current title is Life Enrichment Director at the facility, was nominated for the prestigious award by her coworkers, recognition that is given by the Raleigh-based NC Assisted Living Association to usually only three individuals across North Carolina each year. 

High Country Press spoke with Tester this week, who said that she is  “very honored to have been chosen as one of the North Carolina Heroes of the year” and called it “truly a blessing from God.”

And speaking of blessings, those who know her best are quick to attest to the blessing that Tester is to them, personally and professionally.

Rebecca Tester is the newest “hero” among North Carolina’s assisted living communities. Photo submitted.

“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Rebecca for nearly seven years now,” said  Alethia Griffin, Deerfield’s sales and marketing director. “When I started as a caregiver, she was not only our Life Enrichment Director, but also worked as a CNA for residents when needed. Rebecca trained me during those early days, and I can’t express how grateful I am for her mentorship.”

Griffin continued, “She taught me more than just skills; Rebecca instilled in me a deep sense of compassion. She showed me the importance of an individualized approach to each resident, respecting their independence and protecting their dignity. Most importantly, she cultivated in me a desire to contribute to something greater. Rebecca is the heart of our community. She steps in wherever she’s needed, always with passion and resilience. She’s the best patient advocate I’ve ever known, constantly challenging ageism and showing us all how to truly connect with our residents.”

Griffin added, “I’ve witnessed Rebecca dancing with residents who could no longer walk, laughing with those who lost their ability to speak, and teaching younger generations the importance of these connections. She not only shows us how to do it, but why it’s so crucial. Today, and every day, we celebrate Rebecca for her unwavering dedication and profound impact on our lives.”

This award tells everyone across the state and beyond what folks in Boone have known for a long time. Congratulations, Rebecca, for making life worth living for residents of Deerfield Ridge! Photo submitted.

On behalf of the facility, Griffin worked with Executive Director Amanda Berry on the nomination process for Tester earlier this year who said, “Deerfield Ridge proudly celebrates its fantastic team members and this year, one name rose above the crowd to receive the 2024 NCALA Hero Award: our very own Rebecca Tester. Rebecca has been recognized for her exemplary dedication to protecting residents’ rights to privacy, fostering independence, nurturing spirits, and promoting individuality. With 15 years of service at Deerfield Ridge, Rebecca has cultivated treasured memories, fostered inclusiveness, and shown unparalleled devotion to resident welfare with creativity and enthusiasm. We congratulate Rebecca for being a true hero and champion for our community!”

Nominating Rebecca Tester as NCALA Hero

In their nomination of Tester for the NCALA Hero award, Berry and Griffin shared the following when asked what three values does she embrace and how are they exemplified?

  • “Altruism is at the core of Rebecca’s work, as she consistently puts the needs and well-being of her residents above all else. She goes above and beyond to ensure that each individual feels honored and cared for in a special way. Even when this means spending Christmas morning playing Santa Claus or Easter weekend leading a community Easter egg hunt at Deerfield Ridge. She never hesitates to sacrifice her personal time if she thinks it will bring joy to the residents or her fellow team members. 
  • Rebecca’s ingenuity shines through in her ability to find creative solutions to challenges and improve the lives of her residents. A specific example that comes to mind was about five years ago when a resident with advanced ALS was losing her ability to communicate. Rebecca worked tirelessly with speech therapy to support the resident in using an alternative communication device. This helped ensure that even as the resident’s disease progressed, she was able to maintain a connection with those she loved and preserve a piece of her independence until the end of her time with us. 
  • Rebecca’s accountability is evident in her unwavering commitment to upholding the highest standards of care and professionalism. She takes ownership of her responsibilities, consistently follows through on her commitments, and holds herself accountable for the outcomes of her actions. Her colleagues and supervisors alike trust her implicitly, knowing that she can be relied upon to always act with integrity and diligence.

And, when asked to give examples of how the Tester “champions” quality of life for the residents,  offering choice, dignity, and independence to residents, the duo didn’t hesitate with their responses:

  • “Rebecca spends a lot of time getting to know what our residents enjoy and then finding ways to incorporate that into group and individual activities. One resident really loved earrings, so Rebecca changed the monthly craft activity into handmade jewelry. Another resident that isn’t as social, loves to shop. Instead of missing out on the group trips to Walmart, Rebecca makes time for one-on-one shopping trips with her. She also personally assists residents to decorate their living spaces with their own belongings, such as photos, seasonal decorations made through her activity programs, and empowers them to create a comfortable and familiar environment that reflects their preferences and personality. She intentionally makes time for those who may not have family or caregivers close by. 
  • Rebecca offers outings to go fishing and to local baseball games for many of our male residents. They may be outnumbered but their quality of life is just as important. She does everything she can to help them stay connected in the community and promote their independence. One man that was a preacher his whole life was asked to lead the Memorial Services and Veterans Day Ceremonies hosted here on a yearly basis. Another resident was a history professor and was given the chance to lead some activities, especially on historical holidays. 
  • Each month she hosts resident council, which allows residents to take ownership and pride in their community while also affecting change where they would see fit. This can cover many topics from what meals they would prefer to where they want to volunteer that month. 
  • Rebecca also spends a lot of one-on-one time with residents that may struggle with specific disabilities which keeps them from participating in group activities or mealtimes. She will collaborate with our clinical team or other professional specialties to provide assistive devices where needed, or just give them the moral and emotional support needed to improve their quality of life while preserving their dignity.
  • Rebecca orchestrates a diverse array of activities and programs that enhance the quality of life for our residents. Her creative flair and passion for enriching experiences create a vibrant and engaging environment where seniors thrive. Whether organizing themed events, leading fitness classes, or facilitating arts and crafts sessions, 

In addition to the exceptional influence she has on the residents, Tester is also identified as a role model to her coworkers, impacting, improving and inspiring the workplace and helping to keep positive relationships with other staff. 

According to Berry and Griffin, Rebecca’s boundless energy and enthusiasm uplift both residents and staff alike.

“What sets her apart is her willingness to step into any role as needed, reflecting her deep commitment to the community’s well-being. During the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic, her willingness to pick up shifts as a CNA was invaluable. Her selflessness and willingness to support her colleagues in times of need fostered a sense of unity and resilience within the team, ensuring that residents continued to receive the highest standard of care despite the unprecedented circumstances.

Rebecca’s impact extends beyond her official duties, as she fosters positive relationships with every team member, regardless of their role. She recognizes and values the contributions of each individual, from housekeeping to dining, caregivers, and managers. Her inclusive approach fosters a collaborative and supportive work culture where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute their best.”

During the nomination process, specific situations were highlighted to prove that Tester always goes the extra mile for her residents, providing meaningful opportunities for them in their last years of life.  

“Many people can go to work each day and say, ‘My job is to have fun,’  but I am one of the lucky ones that can do just that,” Tester shared. 

She said that she loves to spend time with the residents and have the opportunity to learn about their lives.

“They are an amazing resource — full of knowledge and wisdom. I want to absorb from them as I can for as long as I can,” she adds. “I love that Deerfield Ridge feels like a family — the residents, team members, and even residents’ families — we build relationships with each other and it gives us all a feeling of home.”

Stephanie Toledo, Members Services Manager for NCALA, who actually came to Boone to present Tester with her award last week, shared with HCP about the hero award and nomination process: 

“All of our member facilities are invited to participate by nominating an outstanding staff member, usually in May of each year, after which an outside entity reviews all the nominations and chooses the winners. We typically have three winners, but this year we have four heroes and one individual receiving a leadership award.”

There were about 50 nominations for 2024, Toledo said. “This is a big honor, and after I met Rebecca, I understand why she was chosen for this award.”

The winners will be officially recognized at the fall conference of the NCALA on  Oct 9 in Winston Salem, at which time state and industry dignitaries will present each recipient the NC Governor’s Award.

What Is NCALA?

Established in 1994 , NCALA is non-profit trade association with a mission to support quality assisted living by working to create a business environment that respects the needs of both assisted living providers and the consumers who utilize their services. NCALA represents 350-plus provider members (facilities) with more than 15,000 assisted living residents in Adult Care Homes and Family Care Homes across the state; represents 90-plus partner members that provide goods and services to provider members, and is the largest provider of state-approved Assisted Living Administrator Certification training.