NEGAUNEE - Lindsay Downs believes she is exactly where she was meant to be.
The route to getting where she is might have been a bit circuitous, but she's thankful all roads have led to her destination.
Since June, Downs has been the social worker at the Negaunee Senior Citizens Center.
"It doesn't feel like work," the bubbly 24-year-old said. "I want to go to work every day. When I wake up I am so happy to be here."
Downs was born and raised in downstate Rochester Hills and lived in that community until the seventh grade. That's when her father, Dave, and mother, Brenda, moved the family to Victoria, Minn., southwest of the Twin Cities.
The family includes Lindsay's brother, Michael, 28, and sister, Katie, 26.
Lindsay was entering her senior year of high school when she made a fortuitous trip to the Upper Peninsula.
"My high school sweetheart was coming up here for college. He was coming here to wrestle at the (United States Olympic Education Center)," she said. "I told him 'I don't know if you're staying, but I really like this school. I am going to come here."
And indeed, while she isn't with that boyfriend any longer, Downs enrolled at Northern Michigan University, which operates the USOEC. Her major wasn't what her family thought it was going to be.
"I was supposed to study education but a guidance counselor told me I wasn't smart enough," Downs said. "She was pretty mean when I look back at it, actually."
Intending to study to become an education paraprofessional, Downs enrolled in an introduction to social work class.
"The professor was phenomenal. Within about 10 minutes of her starting to talk, I said to myself 'this is where you are supposed to be.'"
Downs called her father, who insisted she was indeed smart enough to be a teacher and should continue to pursue becoming a special education teacher.
"We talked a lot. My dad told me if I wanted to be a social worker, I could be one in a school. He felt I was meant to work with kids," Downs said. "We compromised and he's OK with it now."
After graduating from NMU in 2009, Downs took a job with Teaching Family Homes, teaching parenting skills to young people.
"I went to Norlite (Nursing Home in Marquette) with the kids to volunteer and I would visit with this one older gentleman," she said. "I would visit him three or four times a week and I thought to myself 'Why are you doing this as a hobby?' because I loved to visit with the seniors.
"I decided to switch careers. The day I put my notice in at Teaching Family Homes, this job opened up at the Negaunee Senior Center," she said. "It was meant to be."
Downs has enjoyed getting to know the folks who spend time at the center.
"They are a lot more candid about things than I expected," she said. "My biggest goal is to keep them in their homes. I work to connect them to services that make that possible."
She's found in the first few months something quite touching.
"The senior center here is a family for those whose families don't live nearby," she said. "There are the coffee guys who come in every morning and the ladies who do aerobics and the people who come to lunch. There are a lot of people but we always when know if one of them is missing. And we track them down."
While she has myriad tasks to keep her busy, Downs can come up with a favorite moment so far.
"There's a program that provides free delivery of fuel to seniors homes," she said. "One woman came in after we got her set up with that and she and her grandson were just about jumping for joy. To see their smiles, that made my day."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.