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When I began this story celebrating and thanking my fellow-writer and pal, my theme was pretty heavy going. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “This is a great kid and his psyche doesn’t need examining,” I twist a wayward strand of hair as my deadline looms, and think it’s time to lean on a literary giant. Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Suess) and our Rose Schnitzer Manor Culinary Department associate Miles Wells, share exuberant outlooks and imaginative minds. Each exudes joy.

Once you get beyond the athletic stature, shining millennial hair and megawatt Tom Cruise smile, you realize this eighteen-year-old is going somewhere and already has a notion of where he’ll land. He’s on his way as Seuss would say.

You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights. Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t.
― Dr. Seuss

The recent Ida B. Wells High School Graduate not only signed on as a server here in pre-pandemic days, he lured ten-or-so fellow students to join him. Executive Chef Andy Staggs jokes “we’ve met Wilson’s entire student body this year.” “He’s very engaged with the residents,” she adds more seriously.

I ask Miles, what drew him to CSP when other kids were out partying or doing pre and post-election damage? “I’m not a party guy and, more important, I enjoy interacting with the elderly,” he grins.

You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!
― Dr. Seuss

And the feeling is mutual. The seniors of RSM relish interacting with Miles. Arthur Ginsburg sites the server for his “calm.” “Miles never gets excited and he’s very good at dealing with people with cognitive or other problems,” the 92-year-old says of the teen. “He’s always so pleasant,” says Jane S. “He does a great job and is a pleasure to look at.” Sonia Liberman is perhaps closest to Miles. “He’s wonderful!” she declares. “I love this boy. He always has time for a word or two.”

Miles will be off soon to Illinois to enter Lake Forest College, a private liberal arts school. “I don’t want to be educated at the loss of my heart,” he tells me. Rose Schnitzer is not the first time he’s “shared connections with elders,” as he puts it. Miles was extraordinarily close to his grandparents. He was there for his grandmother, Sally, through her last months as a victim of ALS. He defines the experience as “eye opening” and classifies it as an “emotional hardship.”

Raised in a Catholic family, Miles is an advocate and follower of Catholicism. He has a deep appreciation of Judaism and other faiths and values the comfort a belief can offer. It comes as little surprise that I learn mom is a gerontology teacher. Miles has his heart set on becoming a professional therapist working with seniors, of course.

Thank you, Miles Wells for bringing so much joy to our campus. Suess would applaud.

With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
― Dr. Seuss

Miles Wells’ Lake Forest College Application Essay:

It’s Friday evening and we’re busy preparing a great Shabbat dinner for CSP residents and especially those who reside at Rose Schnitzer. The scent of matzo ball soup, oven-roasted chicken, and well seasoned vegetables is wafting around the kitchen as I plate chocolate cake and decorate it with raspberry sauce in the shape of a smiley face. As I’m walking out into the dining room, a tiny, bright eyed, and energetic woman stops me. I stop as well, and ask her if I can help her with anything. She introduces herself as Sonia Liberman and asks me as many questions as I am able to answer without falling behind in service. I seek out Sonia later that night after I have finished my serving duties. We have a wonderful conversation about my school, family, our shared connection to religion, and she offers to make me earrings.

My job at Rose Schnitzer Manor has given me a second home in the past year. I’ve worked as a server for about twenty hours a week since January, and worked full time during my extended summer. While working, my grandmother was battling ALS. This was both incredibly challenging and transformative but the experience of working at an assisted living community was my saving grace. ALS took my grandma’s life and experiencing her degeneration while seeing the same thing happening to some of the residents I loved at the Rose Schnitzer retirement home changed my perspective. Instead of seeing people who in some cases couldn’t get themselves out of bed or remember what their mother’s name was, I saw beautiful lives tarnished by a diagnosis like my grandma’s. This motivated me to treat all of the residents as how I would have liked my grandma to be treated.

Despite the hardships my family was experiencing at this time they still took time out of their day to talk to me about my job. The support system that I had at home inspired me to be a positive influence in my workplace and I was able to channel a lot of my sorrow into motivation to better the residents’ days.

In the spring, the dining room service moved to room service due to COVID. This change allowed me to have a clearer view into the lives of each resident because the culinary services became the primary department that interacted with the residents. Delivering food became my favorite part of the week and I made it my goal to put a smile on each resident’s face. It was challenging at times though. I would come into a room and the meals from the day before would still be sitting on their table. Other times, I would dance with a resident to Frank Sinatra, joke about them adopting me, and then pretend to catch a kiss they would blow through their mask. The residents were finding ways to persevere through this time of neglect and loneliness and it drove me to offer them all the love they deserved.

This job gave me an outlet; a place to share the compassion and love that I have inside and changed me for the better. Moments of humor and hope still give me as much satisfaction as they did seven months ago. I see the life that is still left in residents who are 90+ years old and I am inspired to become a better person because of it and accomplish as much in my life as they have in theirs. The community that I’ve been introduced to at Rose Schnitzer Manor has permanently influenced my perspective on the fragility of every human life.

I still visit with Sonia and ask her how she is doing. She sometimes visits the kitchen and brings us a basket filled with chocolate, thank-you cards, and comments about how the food is too salty or too bland. These interactions I continue to have with the residents keep me motivated and remind me of how much small moments matter.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.
― Dr. Suess

Written by Arlene Layton with a little help from Dr. Seuss. Arlene retired to Rose Schnitzer Manor in 2016. She is a native Oregonian with a passion for writing. Her career included Communications Director for Lloyd Corporation Ltd., Public Information and Communication Manager for the Oregon Historical Society and Development and Marketing Director for the North coast’s non-profit public broadcasting stations operating as Coast Community Radio (KMUN) in Astoria.

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