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Alone no more: Volunteer Bennett provides help to Spanish-speaking community

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Wednesday's Woman

By Robert Villanueva

In the past eight years, Francia Bennett has been present at the birth of about 50 babies of Spanish-speaking families she helps by volunteering her time, transportation and interpreter skills.

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“I’m with them at the delivery,” Bennett said of the expectant mothers.

It is just one way the Elizabethtown resident provides volunteer assistance for the Spanish-speaking community.

Bennett also helps Spanish-speaking area residents make and keep medical and dental appointments.

“I have over 50 families that I help,” she said.

Aside from transportation and the interpreter role, Bennett provides support whenever possible. Part of that support is helping families realize they are not alone.

“They’re away from home, they don’t know the language,” Bennett said.

When her help is needed, she said, she finds a way, often providing resources for families, which she believes are important for them to know. One such resource is the Mulberry-Helm Education Center, which offers English as a second language classes.

“I know how it is to be alone and not be able to depend on someone,” the Ecuadorian native said.

In the student center at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, Bennett checked her appointment calendar on her iPad.

“Without it, I would be lost,” Bennett said.

Having provided volunteer transportation that day for area Spanish-speaking residents to a dental clinic in the ECTC student center basement, Bennett keeps a full calendar of similar commitments.

“I help these people that, sometimes, have never been to a dentist,” she said.

Transportation, Bennett said, is especially an issue for stay-at-home moms.

When Spanish-speaking area residents need help keeping other medical appointments, such as with the Lincoln Trail Area Health Department, Bennett is there.

Since 2004, Bennett has been acting as a volunteer interpreter for area residents, transporting them to medical appointments, some in Brandenburg and Leitchfield. Most appointments, she said, are in Hardin County, for either the health department or dental clinic at ECTC.

Bennett also works with the Kentucky Cancer Program to educate the Spanish-speaking community about cancer, including breast cancer. She arranges annual checkups for women.

Born in Ecuador, Bennett married a military man and lived on post at Fort Knox in the ’60s and ’70s. She lived in Michigan for many years before returning to Kentucky in 2001 to live permanently in Hardin County.

At first she tried getting a job in the banking field, which was her profession in Michigan. When a woman at her church asked for help getting to her health department appointment, Bennett began her journey of volunteerism.

“I found this was my calling,” she said.

Radcliff dentist Bruce Thompson believes that calling is to the benefit of area residents.

“Her unselfish efforts are aiding an underserved and largely invisible part of our local population,” he said.

Bennett said the biggest challenges for the Spanish-speaking community — language and transportation — are difficult to overcome because of another challenge.

“It’s very difficult for them to trust,” she said.

Thompson noted Bennett has broken that barrier to establish a special relationship with the Spanish-speaking community.

“I met her at the dental hygiene clinic at ECTC, where she frequently helps patients with their appointments,” Thompson said. “It is easy to see the trust and affection that her ‘clients’ have for her and she for them.”

The families, Bennett said, are very close, and she feels like she’s part of those families.

“It’s almost like I’m a mother, a grandmother, a sister,” she said.

Because her days are so full — sometimes starting at 7:30 a.m. and ending about 9 p.m. — Bennett sometimes faces scheduling frustrations. At those times, she enlists her husband’s help, she said.

“I don’t have enough hours in the day to do it all,” she said.

Personal time also is a commodity.

“The hardest part for me is when I have to go on vacation,” she said, explaining she has to make sure all her families’ needs are taken care of while she’s gone.

On the other hand, Bennett said she is rewarded by smiles and hugs from children, many who she might have taken to catechism classes, first Communion or confirmation.

But she doesn’t assert she does it alone. Bennett credited the medical and dental communities with being supportive of her efforts.

“They’re just wonderful,” she said.

Ultimately, when she is asked by the families she helps how they can help her, she just tells them to do something helpful for someone else.

“This is a chain I’m hoping will go from one person to another to another,” she said.

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com

MORE ABOUT FRANCIA BENNETT:

City of birth: Zamora, Ecuador

City of residence: Elizabethtown

Family: Husband, George, and two children

Favorite music: Classical, adult contemporary, Spanish

Favorite TV shows: “The Amazing Race,” “I Love Lucy”

Favorite movie: “Gone With the Wind,” “Doctor Zhivago,” classic movies

Favorite books: Nonfiction, The Bible

Hobbies: Reading, tae kwon do

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