“It’s never too late to follow your dreams.”
By Carolyn Culbertson
Photo by Kate Bowie
Wildewood Downs is a gated retirement community made up of cottages and apartments lining a road that circles around to assisted living, long-term care, and rehabilitation units. The person in charge of admitting almost all of the residents and facilitating their integration into this charming community is Chanitra Clisby, whose kind, calm demeanor balances the busy atmosphere perfectly.
Clisby, 41, has a cool sense of self-confidence and self-possession tempered by a warm, candid take on her life. In her office, a fan softly whirs across her desk, where she sits facing a window overlooking the busy, bustling hallway outside.
Clisby is familiar with staying focused and grounded as life whirls around her. At 19, she lost her husband. “My husband passed away probably a month before our first anniversary, so my life started out young,” she says. At the time of her husband’s passing, she had a young son to take care of, so she had to put her dreams of entering the medical field on hold. “I always knew that I wanted to go to school, but there was so much going on then that I had to wait till I was older and a little more settled.”
It’s now or never
She eventually put her plans into action. “I kind of said, ‘Look, I can do this’ and I just put my foot down and went for it,” she said. “I was sleep-deprived, but I kept going till I got it.” Contributing to her sleep deprivation was her being pushed and pulled by the rigorous demands of pharmacy school, so much so that she ended up switching to a master’s in business administration to focus on hospital administration.
All the while, she was raising two young children and working full-time.
Looking back on all that was going on in her personal, academic, and professional life, Clisby remembers one of the big moments that turned things around for her. She met a 70-year-old woman in the same academic program who left a lasting impression on her. “You’re never too old to follow your dreams,” Clisby says. “It’s never too late to follow your dreams.”
Now, Clisby’s own dreams are materializing. She says her ultimate goal is to work as a hospital administrator, for which her current role at Wildewood Downs as admissions coordinator couldn’t be more relevant. She credits the people and events in her life that helped her grow. For eight years Clisby was the med tech supervisor at Wildewood Downs. Although she was overqualified by, quite literally, several degrees, Clisby allowed the position to open doors and she gained valuable skills in the meantime. Working directly with the residents, who call her C.C., has now helped her on the administrative side of their work: “I think it’s very different when you have that one-on-one interaction. It gives you more insight on what their needs are and how you approach them,” she says.
More than that, Clisby was biding her time until an opportunity relevant to her broad career goals arose. When the admissions coordinator position opened up, Clisby’s mentors within the company and the search committee thought she was perfect for the job. The time had come and she jumped in: “I had to push myself to get out of my comfort zone,” she says. “The help of others also pushed me. They told me they saw me doing bigger things.”
As admissions coordinator, Clisby stays very busy and motivated. “When I say I walk from nine to five, I walk all day long,” she says. Whether getting patients oriented to the community, going over paperwork, or meeting with concerned family members, she stays up and moving.
At home, she’s just as busy with two teenagers, a 21-year-old son and a newborn grandchild. Although she never remarried after losing her first husband, she has a significant other. “My life is full,” she says through her robust laugh.
For Clisby, focus, endurance, and persistence have kept her feet on the ground as she pursues her dreams. This is a result of remembering where she came from and looking to the future, “I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights; I’ve had a lot of sad nights,” she says. “I think you just have to tell yourself it will all be worth it in the end.”
And, remembering what it was like to pursue a career in healthcare as a single mother, Clisby advises getting experience in the field, shadowing people like herself if possible. “I know where I came from. I know where I started,” she says. “I would help anyone get to where they need to be.”