JoAnn Okechukwu sets a goal and never gives up until she reaches it. Two years ago, she set a goal of learning to walk again. Through hard work, determination and help from therapists at Highlands at the Oaks on Parkwood in Bessemer, she began to take a few steps. Fast forward to today and she’s making progress towards better health.

“I believe living in the nursing home has helped me not only reach my goal of walking, but also maintaining the ability of walking,” Ms. Okechukwu explained.

That determination also helped Ms. Okechukwu earn a place among the top 10 finalists for the Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant for the second time. She was the first runner-up in 2014 pageant. On July 25, she’ll try again to earn the coveted title of Ms. Alabama Nursing Home 2016.

However, there is more to life than therapy and pageant preparations for this 69-year-old. Ms. Okechukwu has been involved in many activities during her six years of living at Highlands at the Oaks on Parkwood. She is President of the Resident Council and teaches Sunday School each week.

“I feel my greatest joy in life when helping others and following God’s calling for my life,” Ms. Okechukwu said. “I know that being here has given me more of a chance at life than being at home alone.”

Service to others has been a way of life for this Birmingham native. While living in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Ms. Okechukwu served on the Board of Commissioners for Washtenaw County. That spirit of service has carried over to her life in the skilled nursing care center. She distributes menus in the dining room each day and looks after the needs of her roommate.

“She takes care of and anticipates the needs of her roommate who is blind,” said Kristina Osgood, Activity Coordinator for Highlands at the Oaks on Parkwood. “She is very protective and loving when it comes to her roommate’s care.”

Ms. Okechukwu has three children, six grandchildren and one great grandchild.

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For more information about the pageant, click here.

Editor’s note: This is the ninth story in a 10-part series about the finalists for the 2016 Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant. On July 22, we’ll post a story about Ms. Shelby Ridge Rehab Select Betty Tucker.