By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

For Amanda Atkisson, working with the elderly is more than just a job. It's a passion.

The Downs native took the helm as chief executive officer at Via Christi Village in Hays on July 23. But her career really began when she was 16, working as a certified nursing aide in Osborne.

"I grew up in it," Atkisson said of the long-term care industry. "My mother was a director of nursing for 21 years at the facility I started at as a CNA.

"The elderly has been my passion, my drive, my love. I would work with the elderly any day."

She always had planned to become a nurse, but changed her mind while attending Kansas State University. The school did not offer a nursing degree, but had a long-term care administration program.

Not wanting to transfer to another university, Atkisson decided to pursue that career path. Now, she's glad she did.

She got her first job as a facility administrator in 2008, soon after graduating from K-State. She was the executive director at Golden Living Center in Downs until accepting the job in Hays.

"It is a really good fit," she said of her career. "I like to be able to feel needed in all the different areas, and have a different knowledge in each area. It's not just nursing; it's social services, it's a vast majority of areas."

With a staff of approximately 200 and a maximum capacity of 146 residents in both skilled nursing and assisted living, Via Christi Village is significantly larger than her previous facility.

Having future career ambitions in mind, however, Atkisson completed her college training practicum at a large retirement community in Hutchinson. That experience, she said, has helped her make the transition.

With the exception of the four years she spent in college, she has lived in northwest Kansas all of her life. She always had hoped, she said, to return to the area after earning her degree.

"It's the impact that we take care of her own people," she said of why she loves rural Kansas. "We look out for our neighbors, we look out for our families, and we want to be able to help those that we know."

Her husband, Dan, is working on the family farm near Stockton, and the couple has a 1-year-old son, Eli.

The best part of her job, she said, is having the ability to build relationships with the people in her staff's care. She already has reconnected with several people she remembers from her hometown, and is enjoying making new friends, too, she said.

"Of course the elderly can always teach you things," Atkisson said. "I have a gentleman that's trying to teach me German.

"It's really awesome to put those relationships together, and to know that I can always grow and learn things as they are too."