Premtime “Tima” Alka beckons a group of seniors to join her outside for some fresh air in the back of The Chelsea at Bald Eagle, a leading Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Memory Care community in West Milford, NJ.
They decide to participate in singalongs. Tima pulls out lyrics for “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
They start singing.
This scene is a complete contrast for Tima, whose upbringing started in North Macedonia, a small landlocked country north of Greece.
“I still to this day sometimes wake up and say ‘how did I end up here?’,” she said.
She grew up and worked on her family’s farm, but her dream at the time was to become an architect despite disagreements with her dad. He wanted her to become a nurse.
School was put on hold, though. She took the opportunity to come to the United States to start a family.
“Once I got married, I started working here,” said Tima, who barely knew how to speak English before joining Chelsea.
In 2005, she started working as a dishwasher, but knew she wanted a role where she could interact with the residents. That led to her becoming a server. And not long after, she took on housekeeping.
During this time, she said her coworkers helped her learn how to speak the language.
“A coworker would come out with a fork and a spoon and say ‘this is a spoon and this is a fork,’ and I just remembered,” said Tima, who speaks five languages.
Soon enough, due to her commitment and hard work, she was asked if she would be interested in nursing. While she had reservations because of the language barrier and lack of experience, she decided to give it a try.
“The first week I was super happy,” she said. “I felt so good. I wanted to help everybody. There was more communicating with the residents, being more involved with them and that’s what I like.”
She said through her socialization with the residents, they, too, encouraged her to try different positions.
She became a Certified Home Health Aide after passing the test to receive her license, which Chelsea paid for.
Within six months, she was promoted as a lead aide. And within six months after that, she became a Certified Medication Aide.
Now, Tima is the Memory Care Coordinator in the Country Cottage at Bald Eagle. She’s been at this community for 16 years.
“I didn’t plan on moving up in the company but the opportunities were there,” she said. “I guess I made this my second home.”