In Merriam-Webster, the word “care” has a longer litany of definitions than one might expect, especially for such a seemingly simple, four-letter word.

Similarly to love, this one-syllable word can trigger domino effects expanding way beyond our reach. Compassionate care can alter lives, build relationships, and spark hope.

Alberta Watkins, CNA at Forrest Oakes Healthcare in Albemarle, North Carolina, learned this early on in her life. As a 13-year-old, Watkins spent her playtime caring for her ailing grandmother. This experience left an indelible impression on her, and she went on to earn her CNA license in 1994. With the exception of a few brief hiatuses to recharge, Watkins has been caring for patients ever since.

Her compassionate heart has helped her forge many familial-like connections with residents, including one sweet woman who packs Watkins daily baggie lunches to express her appreciation.

Watkins recalled a conversation with her motherwho also works in the nursing fieldabout her career aspirations. “My mama told me, if you go into nursing, don’t walk in that door like you don’t care. If you don’t care for the folks there, then you’re not going to do right by them. . . You have to have a heart, and you have to care.”

Fortunately, Watkins said that caring comes “naturally” to her. This quality, in combination with what she described as her “old-school work ethic,” proves vital for high-caliber professionals working in the senior health care field.

She says this work ethic was ingrained in her when she was a kid, as she helped care for her grandmother, saw her mother work two jobs to support Watkins and her brother, all while living in the projects.

But this “old-school” work ethic stems even deeper than habits or behavior, clocking in and out, going through the motions. Watkins has grit. While this character trait certainly isn’t something everyone can claim, Watkins managed to impart it onto her children—who are now grown, holding down careers, and raising kids of their own (grandkids whom Watkins feels very proud of).

As result of hunkering down, logging in hours, and racking up points, Watkins won the first OnShift Engage program title for March. She also earned employee of the month status in February at Forrest Oakes, and Ben Rife, Human Resources Coordinator, nominated her for this special CHIRP honor with enthusiasm.

She said that some of her co-workers considered her crazy for simply choosing a pen and tote bag as her OnShift prize, but she explained that she’s “not a materialistic person,” and ultimately, her heart for the residents fuels her to take initiative far more than other extrinsic rewards. However, she said the recognition made her feel grateful and “appreciated,” and believes that the program has made an impact on her team.

“Keep loving one another, and keep taking care of the patients. It’s all about the residents, I don’t care what we got going on, those residents didn’t do it, they have nothing to do with it—just treat them like you want to be treated.”

Ultimately, Watkins stressed the importance of taking initiative to care for residents, going out of one’s way, even “re-routing” one’s own plans for the day in order to make someone else’s. She boiled it down: “Keep loving one another, and keep taking care of the patients. It’s all about the residents, I don’t care what we got going on, those residents didn’t do it, they have nothing to do with itjust treat them like you want to be treated.”