"My heart has softened so much for people and their struggles because of this job, and it has taught me how to love in ways I never imagined." - Makenzie Ackerman

Makenzie Ackerman might seem like an ordinary high school student, but when she's not hitting the books, she's working a VERY extraordinary job. Makenzie is a dietary aide at a nursing home and spends much of her time assisting the needs of the elderly, many of those who are struggling with dementia and Alzheimer's. It has been an eye opening experience and a valuable lesson in love. 

Go Makenzie! We are so proud of the work you're doing :-)

Every Ella: Hi Makenzie! Tell us a little about yourself.

Makenzie Ackerman: Hi! My name is Makenzie Ackerman. I am an 18-year-old from a small town in Pennsylvania and the third of four sisters. I'm a bit of a self-proclaimed hippie with a lust for travel, music and heart-breaking poetry. I'm on a constant quest to know God and find self-actualization throughout this crazy-beautiful life on earth I have been blessed with.

What are your plans after high school?

After high school, I plan on buying a beat-up car, embarking on the infamous roadtrip to California and later attending Cairn University in Philadelphia.

Where do you currently work?

I'm currently working as a dietary aide in a nursing home.

How did you get the job at the nursing home?

Basically, I had applied at every single place I could possibly think of. I put in an application at the home once I heard a girl at my school talk about how she was recently hired. I'd call it luck or chance, but as I don't believe in either, I have to attribute this to nothing less than divine intervention that I was hired. 

How has working in a nursing home changed you?

Working in the home has changed my life entirely. It was really awkward at first, because I was way out of my comfort zone having to work with the elderly, especially those with dementia and Alzheimer's. But working with these people has created such a sense of love in me, not only for them, but for all people in general. It has been so humbling to be able to do things like feed a woman unable to move her arms, to ask a man what he'd like for lunch, though he orders the same thing every day, or to hold a woman's hand as she cries because dementia prevents her from remembering her room number. My heart has softened so much for people and their struggles because of this job, and it has taught me how to love in ways I never imagined. 

What is the biggest challenge working in that environment?

The biggest challenge is when some of the residents are having a bad day, because many of them will scream and yell uncontrollably or at things that only they can see, and that's really hard to handle. On top of that, when a resident with dementia is constantly asking "What day is it?" or "Where am I?" It gets really aggravating and annoying, especially when I'm already having a bad day, but I just have to remind myself that it's the disease. It's not their fault.

And the biggest reward?

I feel like the biggest reward of the job is all of the really small things the residents do. There are just a lot of things they say that are just too sweet or really funny that it makes all of the bad days worth it. I have so many great stories from working here, I wish I could type all of them up in an attempt to explain how fantastic it is. It's unlike any other job. 

Has there been a patient that has impacted you the most?

This is so hard to narrow down, because all of them have impacted me so differently, but there are always residents I connect with the most. And I truly can't pick one, because of how different each experience is. However, there is one resident who I call my grandma, and her name is Pat. Pat is just amazingly sweet and is family to me since I first met her. Pat lets me come in and take naps on her bed when I'm pulling a 13 hour day and I'm in between shifts. We buy eachother Christmas and birthday presents, gossip about the other residents together and I even went to take pictures with her last year in my prom dress. Pat first came to the home due to bone cancer and the need for rehabilitation, and she's been here for over a year and a half since then. Her optimism is inspiring, and her carefree attitude is contagious, and that's why she has had the biggest impact on me. 

Name one woman who has inspired you.

Hands down I have to say Joan Jett, because I absolutely emulate her. Joan Jett is the epitome of a badass woman. She is a rock and roll legend from a time where it definitely wasn't remotely acceptable for a woman to be a musician in a rock band. She is my ultimate woman crush, and her music is both empowering and fun and just all around fantastic. Joan Jett was a revolutionary, and that's why she has so inspired me. 

What advice would you give girls today?

I wish I had some advice that wasn't cliche, but I think most of the best advice is what's been given a thousand times before. My advice is simple: just love. Because nothing changes people like love, and allowing yourself to love wholeheartedly will change everything. Love radically and fully and with every part of who you are always.