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Chester County Leadership: Danielle Geyer, Executive Director, Freedom Village at Brandywine

Read our latest mention at Vista.Today.

From the article:

Danielle Geyer, Executive Director of Freedom Village at Brandywine, spoke to VISTA Today about growing up in Abington, playing on a boys’ soccer team with her twin sister when they were young, and learning the importance of customer service at her first part-time job as a cashier at CVS pharmacy.

Geyer discussed why she chose Millersville University for her bachelor’s and master’s in social work and why she decided to focus on working with seniors. She also shared new happenings at Freedom Village at Brandywine, like an on-site bistro, and why reading and learning are so important to her as a leader.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in Abington at Abington Hospital. I graduated from Abington High School.

What did your parents do?

My mom worked in finance, and my father worked for the Abington Township.

Where were you in the pecking order?

I have an identical twin sister, and we are the oldest. I also have a younger brother who is about two-and-a-half years younger than us.

How did you deal with that — growing up being a twin?

We enjoyed it a lot. We were best friends. We did a lot of the same activities. And even now, we look alike and enjoy the same things.

What memories stay with you from growing up in Abington?

We had a lot of good friends and liked to play sports. We specifically spent most of our time growing up in the Glenside/Abington area. My dad still lives in the house where I grew up. Another good memory is that we always played Scrabble as a family after dinner at the kitchen table.

What sports did you play growing up?

Soccer and field hockey. When we started, my sister and I were the only girls on an all-boys team because there were no all-girls teams in the early 1980s. But my mom put us into it and even helped coach at one point.

How good were you, Danielle?

We were okay. We held our own. It was nice that we were twins, so we could do it together. We ultimately grew out of playing on the boys’ team and were able to join girls’ teams in junior high and high school at Abington.

What about part-time jobs growing up?

I worked part-time at CVS Pharmacy as a cashier. That was my first real job. I did that for many, many years, even through college. And my sister and I always babysat. You always got a two-for-one babysitter because there were two of us.

What lessons did you learn at CVS that still influence how you work today?

Customer service. I also learned how to count money and make change.

What was it that you learned about customer service?

When you work in retail, you’re trying to meet the customers’ needs, and they all have different needs. How do you go about doing that? You might be coming in because you want cough syrup, but somebody else wants to find the baby diapers and it’s urgent.

What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

I wasn’t into music. I just listened to whatever was on the radio and popular then.

I’m going to assume you were a pretty good student. Where did you end up going to college?

I went to Millersville University for undergraduate and graduate degrees. I’ve lived in Lancaster most of my adult life. I came back home for a few years to live before I got married, but ultimately moved back to Lancaster and went to graduate school at Millersville again.

Why did you choose Millersville coming out of high school? You could have stayed closer to home.

Affordability — we had to go to a state school. We had to go somewhere close, and Millersville is only about an hour and a half away from where we grew up.

Interesting fact: In my senior year of high school, my sister and I were injured playing field hockey on two different days. We both tore our ACL and our meniscus. And we thought maybe we’d play sports in college, but that didn’t happen. We both had surgery on the same day and had our twin experiences in rehabilitation. That changed our paths.

What did you major in?

I have a master’s in social work, and my bachelor’s is in social work as well. I got into the people industry, caring for people, and always have had a focus on long-term care and senior living. I’ve done work in hospice, too, but I’ve always focused on long-term care.

What drew you into that industry?

In college, I did different social work rotations in drug and alcohol, children and youth — that was heartbreaking for me. Working with seniors, I had an interest in how their minds work and what struggles they have. I think doing rotations led me to believe I liked that type of work.

It’s an interesting generation, this group of seniors.

We’re living in this dichotomy of a time where you have the baby boomers living in the same place that 100-year-old residents are living. It is a great time to work in senior living.

When you graduated from college with a master’s degree, who saw promise in you?

My first professional job was with Acts Retirement Communities. I worked as a social worker in memory care. I love working with people with dementia/memory loss. It is also important to support their families.

After working with Acts for a few years, I moved out to Lancaster, and I was with Willow Valley Communities for 21 years.

There was a gentleman named David Haverstick who was the first person that leveraged me into a management position. He put me in that role at Willow Valley. He saw something in me, and he taught me and gave me my first management-level position.

I didn’t get my master’s degree for 10 years after my bachelor’s degree When I got my master’s degree, I had a mentor named Linda Gross. She was with Hospice of Lancaster County. Linda really is a good person and knows how to work with people in all types of settings. I still am in touch with her. She had good guidance. She was a strong worker, but a good person too.

What did she see in you?

Working through hospice, she taught me how to handle things delicately at the end of life. It’s very hard to work in hospice care, but she did it gracefully and focused on what was important for the patient.

She had trust in me. She knew that I had already been working for 10 years, and she gave me enough guidance but let me soar, too. She let me have wings to fly but always came back to be a resource.

So, how did you get to Freedom Village?

There was a lot of recruitment in senior living throughout COVID because many people wanted to get out of senior living. COVID was extremely hard. It took a toll on all of us, young and old. If people had the opportunity to step away, they did.

Obviously, that left opportunity for others. I was recruited by Life Care Services (LCS) and hired at Freedom Village at Brandywine. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be here. I started in October 2022.

What was it about Freedom Village that caught your attention?

Freedom Village at Brandywine is managed by Life Care Services, a leading management company for senior living. The home office provides a lot of support and resources. I think culture is important for running an organization. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are very important to me. I want to ensure the representation of different people, voices, and ideas.

How would you define Freedom Village culture?

They have a can-do attitude. They have 10 hospitality promises that outline how we service residents and each other as employees. Everybody is committed to doing the right thing for the residents.

Even up the chain above you.

Oh, absolutely. And that’s what I’ve appreciated — my leadership. They invest in us and see the importance of training. When you work for an organization as big as LCS, systems are in place. They’re very systematic. They’re very focused on education and strategies.

What other initiatives are underway at Freedom Village this year?

We just opened a new Village Bistro. The residents are really enjoying it.

From the community standpoint, just this past year, we were recognized in Newsweek as one of the top 250 CCRCs, and our skilled care was recognized as U.S. News & World Report’s Best Nursing Homes. So, we’re happy about that.

What do you do with all that free time that you have?

I have two sons, and my husband is a high school math teacher. One of my sons is 20 years old. He goes to Thaddeus Stevens College in Lancaster. My younger son is in eighth grade, so we’re heavily involved in running him around to basketball and soccer. My older son and my husband are both Eagle Scouts.

Do you read much, Danielle?

I like to read books on leadership. I am currently reading How Women Rise with the LCS book club.

Three final questions, Danielle. What’s something big that you’ve changed your mind about over the last 10 years?

Don’t be quick to make decisions. Try to meet people where they are and see how you can work with them.

Would you say you’re a black-and-white person?

I’m not black-and-white personally, but people answer to regulations. With a social work background, you quickly learn there is a lot of “grey” in the world. When you’re regulated by health care, there’s a lot involved, so at times, there are definitive answers.

How do you stay hopeful and optimistic? It’s a crazy world out there.

There are good people in the world, and there are also people that need care. We’re working with a vulnerable population that needs us. They depend on us. I think you stay positive because you wouldn’t get into this industry if you weren’t a people person or if you didn’t have a caring heart. If you’re not that, then you shouldn’t be working in senior living.

There are a lot of good people here, and my job allows me to help develop them. The residents are very generous and also support employees with items such as educational scholarships.

Finally, Danielle, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I learned it in a leadership class I was taking with LeadingAge PA. It said, “Readers are leaders.” I think the minute we stop learning, we just stop. You have to keep reading, and you have to keep learning and growing as a professional.