Andreen McDonald of Starlight Homes Assisted Living

Working Hard, Taking Risks and Getting Things Done

Some people sit back and watch the world go by. Others jump in feet first, taking the reins and charting their own course. Andreen McDonald definitely falls into the second category. “I like to get things done,” she explains.

The owner/manager of Starlight Homes Assisted Living, McDonald operates two locations serving 28 patients in San Antonio. From operations and human resources to marketing, she is responsible for everything, all while providing a warm, loving environment to the residents.

Tackling tasks, juggling roles and keeping everyone happy is something McDonald enjoys. Her residents range in age from 56 to 100 years young, and there’s nothing that gives her more joy than seeing them happy. “Coming in and seeing smiles on everyone’s faces, I know I’m doing something good. The fact that I can have a family member come in and commend me on the job that we do here, that their mom/dad is doing better — I like that recognition. It drives me to do better,” she says.

Drive is something McDonald is definitely not lacking. She’s known for her competitive streak, which comes out when she sees a challenge. “I like to win. I see everything as a competition. Not being able to overcome a challenge would be like losing. And that’s not acceptable,” she explains with a determined smile.
That attitude has served her well. She graduated from high school in her native Jamaica, then went on to earn her associate degree in marketing by the time she was 18. Marriage and a move to Florida followed before her husband’s Air Force career brought them to San Antonio. She earned her business degree in finance from the University of Texas San Antonio. But McDonald knew her degree wouldn’t automatically mean she’d get a job: “For me to get a job, one has to be available. Someone has to create a job.”

So she decided to do just that: create a job for herself while also creating jobs for others — and making a difference for still more people. She founded Starlight Homes at 22, just a month after she graduated from college. “Being young, if I fail, I still have time to catch up,” she explains.

But for the hardworking young woman who loves competition, failure really isn’t an option, and her business choice wasn’t as random as it might seem. The spark to provide assisted living care grew from a strong foundation within her family — her mother’s career as a certified nursing assistant and her husband’s family’s loving care of his grandmother, the victim of a tragic accident that caused her to need care after her left leg had to be amputated.

“Combining both experiences, I thought I could start something on my own,” she says. And Starlight Homes Assisted Living was born.

McDonald was also guided by advice from a friend in Jamaica. “He said, ‘The decisions you make when you’re young create a path for better or worse for your future. That’s going to ultimately determine what’s going to happen for the rest of your life.’ I always go back to that: It’s the decisions that you make when you’re young that change your future.”

However, McDonald doesn’t think about the future in detail. “I focus on right now and just take one day at a time. I want to continue to work hard. Everything will fall into place. It’s a matter of continuing to work hard and provide the best care we can,” she maintains.

But she does know that she wants to get involved locally, both in San Antonio and Jamaica. She explains, “When I go back and see things there, I want to do more. I grew up with nothing. I know what that’s like. There were days I couldn’t go to school. I can’t help everybody, but if I can help one or two or three at a time, that would make a difference.”

She recently went home to Jamaica to be the guest speaker at her former primary school’s graduation. The experience gave McDonald the opportunity to reflect on her life in Jamaica and where she is today. “I come from a very poor family in Jamaica. We didn’t have a lot of people who had a college degree or a formal education. Seeing young girls like me working to get their education — with that sort of motivation, they can achieve anything they want,” she says.

When asked what advice she’d give other women, McDonald goes back to what struck her when she was speaking at the graduation: “Women must believe in themselves — and that they can achieve their dreams. “If you work hard, you can achieve your goals,” she says. “Put in the time and effort. Nothing comes easy. You can be in a bad situation, but you can make it better if you work hard.”

McDonald and her husband, Air Force Maj. André McDonald, have one daughter, 6-year-old Alayna, whom Andreen lists as her pride and joy. The three eat dinner together every night, no matter how busy McDonald’s day has been: “It’s one of the rules we have: We eat dinner as a family.”

Since her mother and sister also live in San Antonio, family time includes spending time with extended family, enjoying trips to the Texas coast and simple activities together. “You have to squeeze in time for yourself. Providing care for others is 24/7/365, but you still have to sleep, you still have to rest. And family time is important,” she says.

While she successfully juggles it all, McDonald does admit that it can be overwhelming at times, explaining, “I’m a perfectionist. Sometimes, no matter how much you try, you can’t satisfy everybody. I want to be the one to solve the problem. I want to be the one to make everyone happy. When that doesn’t happen, it’s hard.”

However, she doesn’t let setbacks get her down. McDonald draws inspiration from her residents every day. “To know that the job that I do, that someone appreciates that — that motivates and inspires me. Knowing that we’re doing a good job and it shows, that matters.”

By Dawn Robinette

Photography by David Tehran

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