An Interview with Denise Bennecker, Widow Care Coordinator
Denise Bennecker has been serving widows and senior citizens in our neighborhood for the past three years. Recently, I sat down to talk to her about her experiences of working with the elderly.
Whether her sick mother, elderly in-laws, or a widowed friend who was losing her sight, Denise has spent many years serving as a primary caregiver to the elderly. She is familiar with the complications of life that accompany many as they age. “My father-in-law suffered from anxiety and depression when he had to move out of his house. It was a very difficult time, one that he never really recovered from.”
Denise understands the frustrations that come with not being able to do the things you could once do whether gardening, working around the house, or going out with friends. “When my in-laws or my friend moved in with me and Bill so we could take care of them, I witnessed first hand how difficult it is when age and infirmity limit what you can do.” Denise worked tirelessly to do whatever she could to minimize the effects of those limitations. Her caregiving went beyond meeting basic needs, it meant that Denise had to sit and listen to those she was caring for in order to know what they wanted and how they were feeling. The years of serving her family and friend taught her to take the time to listen, make certain that people feel valued, and remember that it is the "little things" that count.
In 2014, Denise and her husband, Bill, moved to Nashville and became involved with our organization. She began serving in several ways that included cooking for school children, working in the garden, and joining the landscaping crew. Denise is a master gardener, an interest that was the impetus to one of her first relationships in the neighborhood. She talks about a widowed neighbor, “We started trading plants and sharing gardening tips. I was building a relationship with her.” As the neighbor shared some of her needs, Denise did what she could to help. Within a short time, Denise had relationships with several elderly, widowed neighbors. It was at this time that she took on the responsibility of managing the Hopewell Widow Care Program.
With the help of Denise's facilitation, many college students at Institute for G.O.D. visit and assist elderly neighbors on a regular basis. Several of them, however, acknowledged that they wanted to do more for the elderly but didn’t know the best way to serve. Denise was ready to help them. “We were cooking meals for several widows, so the first thing I did was teach the girls how to shop. We talked about healthy and cost effective shopping. Then we cooked together," Denise explained. As Denise talks about the times of cooking, I realize how much she invests in the young women working in her kitchen. “I try to help them to understand how important it is that they pay attention to the person they are serving, find out what they like or dislike.” Denise is motivated by the challenge to love your neighbor as yourself, and she demonstrates this attitude as she leads by word and example. “Denise has helped me in working with the elderly by helping me be sensitive to their needs. She has shown me how important the ‘small things’ are. For example, the importance of presentation of food so that the people we serve feel cared for,” said Kara Hadley, Institute student.
Denise explains, “Service is meeting someone else’s needs. Intentionally. It could be yard work or cleaning. Cooking or running errands. But it is meeting a need that they want met. I know that I can’t just walk by a person, see a need, and think someone else will take care of it. Because I walked by and saw it, now I have the responsibility to do what is within my capacity to do. That is how I got involved with Ms. Mary. I noticed there was no car in her driveway, I knew she used a walker and didn’t get around easily, and during the daytime, she didn’t have many visitors or people at home. So I started checking in on her. I just knocked on her door and asked if I could visit. I learned a lot about her. She had so many stories to tell about the long life she lived—a good life where she helped a lot of people. Ms. Mary loved the Lord and we would encourage one another with the Word. Praying together was just as comfortable as talking together. Ms. Mary passed away a few years after I first met her, but she blessed all of us who were able to serve her.” Denise smiled as she finished telling me about Ms. Mary and then she added, “She loved bing cherries so I would bring them to her often.” Obviously, Denise took her own advice to pay attention to what people like and remember the importance of the ‘little things’ when serving others.