The Woodlands Dining Manager Michelle Fifield is a renaissance woman, whose job is to do “a little bit of everything,” she said, “from baking cookies, to doing schedules, to vacuuming the dining room, washing our uniforms, setting tables, waiting on tables, clearing tables and doing dishes.”
Michelle, who has been working at The Woodlands for nearly three years now, also engages in the social aspect of dinner each night, greeting and seating every resident who comes in.
“During dinner, I go around and say hi to the residents, so I get to see everyone,” Michelle said. “I try to check in on a nightly basis and see how everything is going — how the food is and how the wait staff is doing. I greet residents at the door and welcome them. I also set up for their events — they have a pub night every Friday and a monthly social, so I get that all set up.”
Michelle works under Director of Dining Services Sam Fazio, who heads the dining department, which serves breakfast and dinner every day for The Woodlands’ 82 independent living residents, along with lunch several days a week. To Michelle, one of the best aspects of the job is learning from residents and hearing their life storis and meeting their families who come to visit.
“These residents have lived such diverse lives, from homemakers and military wives to teachers and professors, to people who write books, to doctors and lawyers,” said Michelle. “It’s so fun to hear all their different life stories, the places they have been and the things they have done. It’s just so interesting getting to know them.”
Michelle hails from Thetford, Vermont, and loves the outdoors and spending time with her three children and her grandchildren. She previously worked for 24 years at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital as an executive assistant and for 10 years as a high school softball and basketball coach, a role she draws on today heading a team of around 30 servers, all of whom are high school and college students.
“I was brought up around my grandparents, so when I interview these kids, I tell them that when you start working here, you gain 80 grandparents,” she said. “These residents care about you as much as you care about them.”
In 2020, the earliest part of the pandemic tested the limits of Fifield and her conscientious wait staff, who went from serving one meal a day in the evening to delivering three meals a day straight to residents’ doors, up until the dining room reopened on a limited basis. But what made everything worthwhile was seeing how much the residents appreciated it, she said. “You realize very quickly how nice the residents are, and I knew that their families weren’t going to be around, so I wanted to make it as as good as you could get at that point in time. My team and I all worked a lot of hours this past year, but I wouldn’t trade any of it,” she said. “It was easy to do it because of the residents.”