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Tracy Frank, Published April 16 2013

HerVoice: Long-term care provider recognized for dedication to her job

Her Voice is a weekly article about women in or from our area and how they make an impact on the world around them. If you know someone SheSays should feature in HerVoice, email Tracy Frank at tfrank@forumcomm.com.

DILWORTH – Denise Tollefson’s love of her job is evident in the way she smiles easily and jokes with the residents of Serenity Assisted Living in Dilworth.

She’s the center’s assistant administrator and views the people who live there as her “extra grandmas and grandpas.”

“I like the versatility of it,” she said of her job. “I love that each day is a different day. I find it so rewarding. Even if I have a hard day, I know that what I’m doing is good work. It’s just a really special thing.”

It’s her compassion and dedication to her job that helped land Tollefson on Providers magazine’s list of “20 to Watch in 2013.”

The magazine is published by the American Health Care Association National Center for Assisted Living in Washington, D.C. The “20 to Watch” feature was designed to recognize those who see caring for the elderly and people with disabilities as a calling and who have the compassion and vision to make a lasting impact on the profession, according to the magazine’s website.

Tollefson said it felt amazing to be named on the list.

“I was completely surprised. I didn’t know I was nominated,” she said. “In long-term care, you work all these hours and sometimes you don’t get thanked for the different things you do, so it was a nice way to get recognized.”

Tollefson, 27, of Moorhead, has worked at Serenity since it opened in 2005. While finishing a degree in mass communications at Concordia College, she helped develop the business by writing the employee policy handbook.

“Just fell in love with it,” she said. “I just couldn’t stay away.”

Now she works in management. Her duties include a range of activities from staff training to scheduling to writing a monthly newsletter to planning activities for the residents.

Tollefson said she learns a lot about what the residents want by eating with them, stopping by their rooms to visit with them and participating in activities with them.

She also helps manage Serenity’s new West Campus, which opened March 11 across the street from the original facility.

In addition to her work at Serenity, Tollefson is involved in the Homeless & Hungry project. Participants fast for 30 hours, sleep in cardboard boxes outside in the middle of October and take part in service projects and fundraising activities.

Tollefson helped encourage Dilworth youth to participate in the project by sleeping in cardboard boxes in the Serenity courtyard.

“The residents of Serenity kind of kept their eye on them the whole night,” she said.

The next morning, the youth used Serenity’s kitchen to make a couple of meals for the Dorothy Day house, she said.

“It’s such a huge event, and it’s really important to the community,” Tollefson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526.