Amber Belcher's job as a payroll specialist seems as natural as wearing ballet shoes, a dream she had as a child. Now that she's ensuring 1,500 employees are paid on time, Belcher can't imagine having any another profession.

Amber Belcher long held the aspirations of many "typical little girls." She wanted to be a ballerina when she grew up. If that didn't work out, becoming a movie star was her fallback plan.

"Unfortunately, life doesn't let you plan your dreams," Belcher said recently, almost wistfully. "Sometimes you have to do what you have to do."

The work that Belcher is doing now wasn't on her radar as a child. But as a full-fledged adult and mother of a teen, her job as a payroll specialist seems as natural as wearing ballet shoes. Belcher can't imagine having any another profession. "I really enjoy payroll," she said.

In hindsight, her early life offered an excellent path to the human resources department of Commonwealth Care of Roanoke (CCR), a management company for 12 nursing homes and long-term care centers in Virginia. But like many of us, Belcher at the time couldn't see too far down the road on her journey. There were pressing matters at home.

Early Challenges

Born and raised in Floyd County, Virginia, Belcher put aside college to care for her mother, Vicki, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1997. "Instead of doing the college thing, I decided it was better to stick close to home," she said. Her mother died in June 1998, when Belcher was 19.

After Vicki's death, Belcher worked for the retail chain Goody's Family Clothing in Christiansburg, Virginia, where she got a taste of managerial duties by serving as a junior department head. Right before Goody's filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and closed dozens of stores, she had had enough of retail and pursued her next opportunity.

She worked as a receptionist at a nursing home and rehabilitation center for only a few months before becoming its business office coordinator. "I handled HR and payroll, and I loved it," she recalled. "I fell in love with bringing on board new people and all the other aspects of the job."

A Career in Payroll

In 2008, Belcher joined Radford Health and Rehab Center in Radford, Va., as a business office assistant, and administered HR and payroll until the duties were split into two positions. Because she didn't have the required background for the HR generalist position, Belcher took over payroll. It turned out to be the right move, as the job confirmed her appreciation for ensuring every piece is in place so that every employee is paid promptly and accurately.

She stayed there for nearly seven years until 2014, when a payroll specialist position opened at CCR, which manages Radford Health and Rehab Center. She landed the job and has since been commuting daily to CCR's Roanoke office from her home in Floyd County. She oversees the pay of more than 1,500 employees across 12 work sites.

Demanding but Rewarding

Belcher never has a dull day at work, and that's the way she likes it.

"Most of the time, our days are not typical days," she said. "We don't have a set schedule. Only one day is set, and that's when we process payroll. That's every other week. But every other day, there's always something new to tackle, like a deposit issue or upgrading our system to ADP or rolling out something for a particular center."

When work stops, Belcher checks in on her dad, Danny, who has remarried since Vicki's death. She's also there for her 15-year-old son, Hunter Whitfield, a ninth grader who, according to Amber, "rules my world." Her two pugs also keep her busy, as well as her engagement to her boyfriend, Klay Strauss. She also makes time to watch movies.

"Most people come to me and ask for a recommendation for a movie," she said. "My mom said I should have been a movie critic."

Belcher enjoys working at CCR so much that she helped her sister, Heather, get a job there as a nurse case manager. Work can be demanding, but Belcher wouldn't have it any other way.

"I love the stress of the job," she said. "The weeks for processing payroll are my favorite. There's a deadline and I just love that. If an issue arises, I love knowing that I fixed it."

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