For seniors in the Willamette Valley, that could be College of Public Health and Human Sciences 2010 alum Tera Stegner, who is leading the charge to improve elder care in her new position as co-director of Grace Center for Adult Day Services in Corvallis.
“My big dreams are to see Western culture and society start to view long-term care differently and put a higher value on the elders in our society and how they might be better respected, cared for and integrated into community,” she says.
Tera brings strong family values, faith and a passion to care in improving the lives of those at Grace Center.
“I am very passionate about the unique services we provide to our community – the only adult day center in Linn, Benton and Polk Counties and the only one in the state with a post-rehabilitation specialty in addition to our memory care specialty,” she says. “Not only does Grace Center greatly benefit seniors and disabled adults through our health and social day services, we bring much needed respite to our participants’ family caregivers, therefore enabling seniors and disabled adults to remain in their homes and communities and continue to live with family for much longer than would be possible without Grace Center’s services.”
Tera’s passion for elder care came about unintentionally – all starting with a job she landed the summer after high school as bath-aid/caregiver at a living facility in Clackamas, Ore.
“I just wanted a job so badly I would have done anything, but thankfully this job turned out to be one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had and was a significant moment in my life where I discovered my joy in serving the elderly,” she says.
Later, after two years on scholarship for cross country and track and studying psychology at Corban College (now Corban University) in Salem, Oregon, she felt drawn to Oregon State to study gerontology in the CPHHS.
“It was a tough decision to leave Corban and prematurely end my running career, but now almost four years since graduating from OSU, I don’t regret the decision for one minute,” she says.
In fact, she says it helped improve her writing, critical thinking, organizational and leadership skills and added to her knowledge of human development. The pinnacle of her studies, she says, was completing two internships – at the Grace Center for Adult Day Services and Providence ElderPlace Laurelhurst in Portland.
“Internships are extremely important during college because they provide a chance for students to get their feet wet,” she says. “The classroom is invaluable as well, but it is not until a student gets out into the real world and has a chance to experience the work they are interested in that they really get a feel for what it is they are going to school for. This experience helps fine tune one’s goals and career direction as well as make classroom content come alive.”
As an intern at Grace Center, Tera assisted in the care of participants by co-leading exercises and stretches, facilitating activities, initiating discussion sessions, assisting in office duties, attending staff meetings and shadowing employees.
“My internship at Grace Center opened my eyes to Adult Day Services and helped me focus my career aspirations as I became passionate about this unique type of long-term care,” she says. “The internship also provided an invaluable networking opportunity for me as the relationships I built during my internship with staff gave me good standing when I came back to apply for a job.”
After graduation, Tera completed one year of Bible school at Cornerstone School of Ministry at Calvary Chapel Corvallis where she traveled to Israel for a two-week study tour and worked part-time as a ministry leader of the Calvary college group.
“Having temporarily satisfied my travel bug and feeling ready to embark into my career, I started looking for work in Corvallis,” she says. “One of my first stops to drop off a resume was Grace Center.”
Thanks to her lasting impression as a stand-out intern, she was hired a few days later as the office and admissions coordinator and within a month’s time took on the responsibility of activities coordinator. Less than two years later she was promoted to her current role as co-director of Grace Center, where she also serves as director of community relations and retains admissions coordinator responsibilities.
“I love being able to witness so much goodness being brought into people’s lives by the work we do at Grace Center,” she says.
“I would like to see the outcome of my work be that Grace Center continues to thrive as a respected and invaluable non-profit available for the greater Willamette Valley community no matter financial hardship, remote geographic location or complicated health or care needs,” she says. “I am proud to be a part of an organization that enables seniors and disabled adults to maintain their independence and decrease and/or reverse physical and cognitive decline. Adult day services help keep families together and our communities intergenerational.”