Jennifer Weininger, Executive Director of Weinberg Community, might be the youngest person in the area with the longest tenure in senior care. Now 41, she entered the field at 15 (receiving an age waiver) and has worked in it continuously: “I started volunteering in Activities through a high school program in a nursing home … then the Activity Director offered me a job.” She laughed as she recalled how she had to be driven to work because she wasn’t old enough to drive yet. “Ever since then, I never left the field. It’s the only thing I’ve done!”
All through high school and college, Weininger worked in nursing homes, retirement homes and took on internships. She attended the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and received a bachelor’s in Health Administration with a specialty in Gerontology. She went on to the University of St. Francis in Joliet for her master’s in Health Administration with a Gerontology specialty. She worked in a retirement home during college in Champaign and was offered a job there upon graduation, but turned it down, opting to move back to Chicago to be with her family and friends.
Along the way, she has been recognized as a leader in the eldercare field and has achieved many significant milestones. In her mid-20s, she was named Director of the 80-bed Pebblebrook Alzheimer’s Center (now Claridge Healthcare) in Lake Bluff. And within a few years, she was recruited for a leadership position at Weinberg Community in Deerfield, where she’s been involved in many developments, including the expansion of Friend Center in 2014 with the dedication of the Bernard Heerey Annex. She continues to advance her knowledge of the field by participating in leadership opportunities such as when she received a certificate for her year-long participation in the LeadingAge Leadership Academy.
Weininger’s demeanor on the job is very customer-service oriented, attentive and responsive to the needs of her residents and their families, while being calm and reassuring. It could be an easy assumption that she’s been at this type of work so long that not much can shock her and that she always knows what to do. However, she admits that she still gets nervous at times. But she knows that her staff, residents and family members are depending on her for guidance and direction. Her long-time experience does help her through tough situations.
“Things go on every day that are stressful and challenging,” she explains. “Deaths are especially hard because of the strong bond we form with the residents and their families. So many different things can happen every day when you are running a building that is home to over 200 people. But you handle the crisis, learn from it and hope to use your knowledge and past experiences to better ground you when the next situation occurs.”
In movies, executives of large facilities helicopter in at all hours to take the reins when emergencies flare. Fortunately for Weininger, big problems rarely occur. But she is basically on call 24/7, and if she determines that the staff needs more support, she is always a few minutes away and will drive over to the building any hour of the day or night to assist her strong crew on all shifts. Otherwise, her team is always brainstorming day and night to figure out how to handle a particular situation. This is her hands-on approach in all areas. It’s an intensely tight, and smooth-running operation with very dedicated staff members who manage a complex array of administrative, healthcare, life enrichment, dining and facility management responsibilities that make Weinberg a warm, welcoming home.
Asked to sum up her career at Weinberg Community, Jennifer says, “Most of my 26 years of experience has been spent at Weinberg for a reason. Just as residents feel at home, Weinberg has been my home. My kids even look forward to coming with me to Weinberg events. With its emphasis on values, on warmth and support of each other, I can say that I have been personally enriched every day that I’ve been there. This is my extended family.”