Inside Athena: Laurel Ridge Social Worker Bridging Connections Through Music, Dance, and Years of Dedicated Service

Inside Athena: Laurel Ridge Social Worker Bridging Connections Through Music, Dance, and Years of Dedicated Service

RIDGEFIELD, C.T. — Rita Wagener and her family moved to Connecticut in 1996 after living in Alaska for 14 years. The choice was between Connecticut and New Zealand and Wagener and her family decided to settle in Danbury.

The decision came down to how much they can pack. Wagener said that the move to Connecticut allowed her family to pack up all their items and personal belongings, whereas a move to New Zealand would have meant leaving behind many personal belongings that Wagener’s grandmother left her.

Wagener enrolled at Western Connecticut State University to finish what she started at the University of Alaska – a degree in social work. In 1999, she found a job working as a dietary aide at Laurel Ridge Health Care Center while completing her schooling. Little did she know she had found a place she would build her career.

In 2004, upon receiving her bachelor’s degree in social work, she applied for an open social work position at the Ridgefield center and has been there ever since.

“I have been here for so many years,” said Wagener. “I enjoy engaging with the residents, helping them, and solving their needs. That always puts a smile on my face. I love to spend time with the residents and hear about their roots.”

Wagener and Andrea Blair make up the social work team at Laurel Ridge. In addition to Wagener’s social work responsibilities, Wagener also shares a part of her life with the residents through African music and dancing.

“It’s therapy for me and the residents enjoy it,” she said.

Wagener is a native of Uganda. During her performances, she teaches her audience about Africa through music, dance, and fashion. She performs in many different places around the state, including libraries and senior centers. She also makes her own clothing to wear during the performances.

“I’m a different person outside of Laurel Ridge,” she said. “I’m a performer, I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m a grandmother, I’m a designer.”

Wagener said she has plans to retire in 2026 and at that time will add a children’s book author to her list of things to accomplish.

She advises those who are interested in helping and assisting others to explore a degree in social work administration as it is a rewarding career, though it comes with challenges, it also provides meaningful work.

“The industry is changing, and you learn a lot on the job, but you just have to grow with the changing world,” she said.

Follow Athena Health Care Systems on X and Facebook & Laurel Ridge Health Care Center on Facebook. Interested in a career with Athena? Click here!


March 28, 2024 A Healthier Approach To Caring, Inside Athena