"I love my residents," declared Dawn Lamb, now in her 19th year as a geriatric nursing assistant at the Roland Park Place continuing care retirement community.
For Lamb, 52, the love she gives to assisted living residents as a dedicated and caring aide — and the love she gets back — is what keeps her going professionally in a job that requires aides to assist residents with daily activities ranging from getting dressed to taking their medications.
It also requires a lot of patience, as well as the inner strength to deal cheerfully with an aging population for whom death could come at any time.
"If you're doing this for a paycheck, you're in the wrong field," she said.
Now, Lamb, a resident of the Pimlico area near Mount Washington, is rich in national recognition. She has been named one of the country's top 10 caregivers by the website Caring.com, an online resource for senior living, which promotes itself as "the leading senior care website for family caregivers and the Web's #1 source of senior care reviews."
In a contest in July, Caring.com's online community of nearly two million monthly visitors cast votes for their favorites, using social media buttons on each nominee's story page and article comment feature, according to the website.
The staff of Roland Park Place kept Lamb's nomination a surprise, until her friend and co-worker, Ella Washington, said to her, "I know you must not have known anything about this."
"I said, 'Know about what?' " Lamb recounted last week. "I was flabbergasted."
With the award comes $100.
Seniors at Roland Park Place voted for her en masse, some on Facebook and others with handwritten notes that the staff posted online.
"She skillfully carries out her responsibilities with a reassuring smile — the best medicine possible," wrote resident Lovel Perkins.
Tanya Allen, director of health Services at Roland Park Place, nominated Lamb without hesitation.
"Dawn's work ethic is wonderful," Allen said. "Her customer service is excellent. You don't want an aide who is grouchy. I want somebody pleasant. Dawn fits that category. I'm very happy she won. She's No. 1 in my book."
Lamb, a mother of three, the youngest 18, has an Associate of Arts degree in New Technology from Baltimore Community College. She formerly worked as a Baltimore City Section 8 housing secretary, and on a Black and Decker assembly line, as well as helping to run her family's former Jamaican carryout restaurant, before following in the footsteps of her mother, Olive Lamb, who retired from Roland Park Place as a geriatric nursing assistant in 2010.
Lamb became interested in health care while caring for her grandmother, Avis Green, a stroke victim, who has since died.
"Then I saw the need," she said. "I made a promise to my grandmother that I would take care of other people," she said.
Lamb took a geriatric nursing assistant's course in the 1980s to learn how to care for her grandmother. But before she could join Roland Park Place in 1994, she had to take a state certification course that covered much of the same ground as the earlier course.
Lamb, who previously has won several in-house employee awards, including Star in the Park and the Baker Award, is the longest-serving geriatric nursing assistant in her department, Resident Services. She is grateful to have met residents like the late Sara Silverton, a religious woman who used to pray for Lamb in Hebrew and English.
Silverton died in July at age 101.
"She died the morning I got back from my vacation," Lamb said sadly, "so I never got to see her. But she knew about (the contest)."
Lamb has no plans to retire any time soon.
"I just take each day as it comes and ask the Lord to guide me," she said. "I look at this as the job the Lord wanted me to do."
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She always remembers her promise to her grandmother to help others — "and I'm going to keep doing it."