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Desire to help others leads York College grad to her profession

Emily Connor poses for professional headshot.

When Emily Connors came to York College of Pennsylvania as a first-year student in 1993, she knew she wanted to help people, make a difference, and be creative — she just wasn’t sure how to make a career of it.

“I did an internship after my freshman year, and that got me hooked,” Emily says of her major and profession of Therapeutic Recreation, a field she didn’t even know existed before coming to York College.

Today, she’s the Therapeutic Recreation and Life Enrichment Supervisor at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown, adjunct professor at the College, and a recent recipient of a York College of Pennsylvania Year of 50 Spartans award.

Emily credits York College’s curriculum, emphasis on internships, and opportunities outside the classroom for helping her succeed in her career. “I wanted a smaller school so I could get involved,” she recalls. “I played volleyball, was secretary and president of the Recreation and Leisure Society, which taught me leadership skills, and was an orientation and tour guide. I loved showing prospective students and their families the campus.” These activities, Emily asserts, helped her become more confident in her first jobs.

Fulfilling work

At the Masonic Village Health Care Center, Emily fulfills her career goal of helping people. “We have relaxation programs, physical exercises, travelogues, trivia, gardening, and reminiscence programs with chaplains,” she notes. “Our goal is to put together a calendar each month that meets the physical, spiritual, social, and cognitive needs of the residents.”

Emily works with residents in skilled, personal, and dementia care. She says, “We have programs for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, and older adults, both individual and group.”

Building relationships and getting to know each of the residents, learning what each enjoys doing, and sharing this recipe for success with today’s York College students, whom she supervises as interns brings her work full circle.

“I stress to students every person is unique,” she says. “Don’t assume residents of the same age like the same music or activities. You can’t serve properly unless you get to know each resident personally and treat them as individuals.”

With America’s aging population, and because therapeutic recreation professionals serve many populations — from students needing help with communications, social skills, and sensory needs, to older adults in physical rehab or long-term care with dementia, to people of any age needing psychiatric help — Emily assures interns their field will be in demand.

Year of 50 Spartans recognition

York College recently returned Emily’s love for her alma mater, naming her a Year of 50 Spartans award winner, as part of the College’s 50th anniversary. The award recognizes outstanding alumni who have demonstrated dedication, excellence, professional achievement, and most importantly, a commitment to staying engaged with York College after graduating.

“Exciting,” is how Emily describes this award. “York College has always been a part of me.” But, she sees the award less as a personal accolade than as a way to continue helping both the College and those with whom she works.

“It’s a great way to promote York College and let students know about the small classes, the professors who get to know you and stay in touch after you graduate, and the project-based learning that gets them practical experience early on,” she says.

Giving people meaning

This recognition, she hopes, will keep attracting top students who share her desire to help. “Residents say the work we do is essential to their lives and tell me regularly how grateful they are for it. When people laugh, I see the reward,” she says.

This all fits with the calling she found at York College. “I want to give people meaning each day,” Emily says. “I don’t want them to just get through the day, but to enjoy the day, to still do the things they love, even if we have to adapt those activities a bit.”

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