When Barbara Kelley graduated from the University of Florida, she hadn’t planned for a career in senior living.
But that’s precisely where she found herself just a few years after earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She’d pursued a real estate license and was working with a builder/developer in Fort Lauderdale when one of her friends began working in sales at a senior living community near Boca Raton.
“She loved working with older adults…she said it wasn’t at all like working in real estate. It was more about relationship building,” Kelley said. “My friend thought that with my psychology background, it would really be up my alley.”
That was the beginning of a long career that shows no signs of slowing down. In 2017, Kelley celebrates 23 years with Vi (formerly Classic Residence by Hyatt). Those 23 years have seen her in an evolving role at several Vi communities, from sales counselor positions at rental properties in Pompano Beach and Boca Raton, to sales director at Vi at Lakeside Village, where she remains today.
“Even though I’ve been with the company for 23 years, I’ve had completely different experiences at each community,” Kelley said. “I’ve met so many different, amazing people along the way — the job has never gotten stale.”
Finding calm under pressure
Penny Smith — who was executive director at Vi at Lakeside Village until late 2016, when she moved to Vi at Bentley Village — worked with Kelley at the rental communities and later at Vi at Lakeside Village.
According to Smith, professionalism has always been Kelley’s hallmark — from everyday selling situations to the chaos of hurricane season. In 2004 and 2005, the threat of Hurricanes Francis, Gene, and Wilma called on staff to go the extra mile to ensure residents felt safe and cared for. Kelley was a source of calm throughout that time, Smith said.
“You could just go down the list of qualities you want in a professional — cool, collected, polished — and check them all off for Barbara,” Smith said.
Darrell Baltimore, Vi at Lakeside Village’s executive director since 2016, agrees that Kelley’s unflappable nature has made her a huge asset to the community’s management team.
“Barbara is a cool cucumber! Everyone can be running around with their hair on fire, but she’s the calming force that keeps everybody on a level playing field,” he said.
Leading from the top
Kelley looked to Smith as a mentor from early on in her career, soaking up her wisdom and building the confidence and emotional intelligence required to become a sales director.
“When Barbara joined me at Lakeside Village, she was new to life-care communities. She knew she had some things to learn, so she put herself out there and found people to help her learn the business,” Smith said. “She’s a great mentor for other people, but she's always been very eager to be mentored, too.”
As the sales team has grown and evolved, Kelley’s role has, too. Many of the employees currently working in the sales department are seasoned professionals, so she’s as much as a cheerleader as she is a manager.
“The sales team currently in place doesn’t need a lot of coaching — I just love seeing them all work together,” Kelley said. “My job these days is being there to provide support when I’m needed.”
Kelley’s positive attitude in the face of any challenge is a huge asset to the Lakeside Village team, Baltimore said. Kelley is always the first to jump in feet first and offer help — inspiring her team to follow suit.
“When it comes down to doing what’s right for the community, she’s the first one to volunteer,” Baltimore said.
Building relationships with residents
The most rewarding part of the job, according to Kelley: building relationships with prospects who eventually move into the community.
According to Baltimore, Kelley’s tenure at Vi at Lakeside Village has allowed her to really get to know residents — and their families. “She’s worked so closely with people over time,” he said. ”She’s been here long enough that she’s really formed some deep-rooted bonds.”
One stands out in Kelley’s mind: a longtime Vi at Lakeside Village resident who Kelley worked with for several years before she decided to move to the community.
“She was very particular about everything. So many times, I wondered if she was serious about coming here,” Kelley said. “But we eventually found the perfect place for her — she couldn’t say no! After the fact, she told everyone she wished she’d done it sooner.”
Today, that resident is one of Lakeside Village’s Goodwill Ambassadors, meeting with prospective residents on a regular basis to answer questions and talk about her experience at the community. She and Kelley still have a strong relationship and interact often.
“After the sale is made, you now have this person you can continue to build a relationship with — and feel confident that you’ve helped them settle into a new life,” Kelley said. “This the most satisfying job I’ve ever had.”