Associate Spotlight: Finding Her Calling

As a teen, a part-time job brought her on a personal, professional journey
Young woman posing for photo in assisted living facility
07
Jun '21

When Sam Reilly was too young to drive, she walked from her home in Mansfield to look for a job at nearby Village at Willow Crossings. Little did she know then that she would find her passion.

Eight years ago, she was hired to work in the kitchen, but quickly realized that she was much more interested in the relationships she was making with the people who live at the Willow Crossings. As a programming assistant in the Mind and Memory Care neighborhood, she provided opportunities to residents that ranged from painting nails and playing games to arts and crafts – or even just getting out for some fresh air. 

“We sit outside in the sun. That’s one of the best activities there is,” she said. “My job is to have fun.”

But there is also a more serious side, which included praying the Rosary each morning and working to meet the spiritual needs of the residents. The religious aspect of her job led her to a career. She will be graduating as “Class Marshal” – top of her class – at Boston University with a master’s degree in theology. In the fall, she will work on a doctorate in religion and then pursue teaching. 

“I would love to be a professor,” Sam said. “I love the academic side of it.”

Facebook post of seniors holding up whiteboards

What’s the secret?
As part of her application to the doctoral program, Sam quoted a resident. When asked how she felt after receiving the Eucharist, the woman replied, “Hungry.” Sam admitted to being taken back by the response, but after reflecting on it, it summed up Sam’s desire to grow educationally and spiritually.

“I owe it all to her,” Sam said, who left Willow Crossing in May to prepare for her education. 

She says that she regularly looked to the residents for advice. “I’m always asking, ‘What’s the secret?’” 

About a year ago, that quest for knowledge went viral on Willow Crossing’s Facebook page (facebook.com/VillageWillowCrossings) when she asked for advice from the residents. There are photos of women and men with their names, ages, and words of wisdom.

The messages range from the simple: “Laugh!” (Jean, 84) and “Take Care” (Pat, 83), to the honest: “Call your parents” (Lorraine, 90) and “Know when to shut your mouth” (Carole 83), to the humorous: “Be like me” (Bill, 86).

Sam suggested that the one that impressed her the most came from Rose, age 90. Rose’s advice: “When you’re making coffee, always make two cups and share.”

“That was just so mundane yet so profound,” Sam recalled.

Many other people agreed that the advice from the elders was worth passing forward. About 40,000 people shared the posting and about 4,000 reacted to it and 1,400 commented on it.

Leaving but still loving
Sam says it’s not easy to leave the community. “I’m so sad,” she admitted, but stressed that she will be back. 

That’s no surprise coming from somebody who considers the residents her “best friends.” Jill Flores-Cordon, a director at the Willow Crossings, noted that Sam is “warm and loving and genuinely cares for the residents.” 

When a woman was “actively dying,” Flores-Condon explained, “Sam came in on her time off, multiple times, to sit at her bedside so she felt safe and loved.”  

The programming assistant downplays the event. She recalls bringing in her homework and just spending time with somebody she cared for. “A lot of these people are my closest friends,” Sam said.  

“When I come back to visit my parents, I’ll also visit the Village,” she promised. “They can’t get rid of me.” And when she returns home, her friends will be waiting.

The Village at Willow Crossings