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Wanda Dobbins’ life has journeyed from the mission field of Chile to helping individuals and families during the end of life.
When she was a little girl, she always knew she wanted to do something in the social work field, even if she didn’t know at the time what social work was.
Experiences with her sister’s battle with polio sparked her interest. From age 4 until her death at 18, Dobbins’ sister was in and out of Kosair Children's Hospital. At that time, siblings were not allowed in the rooms so she spent a lot of time in the waiting room, not knowing what was going on. She remembers thinking someone should be paying attention to her and letting her know what’s going on or connecting with the rest of the family. She knew, even as a child, she wanted to grow up to help people in those situations.
In high school and college, she went on mission trips and gained a love for the Spanish-speaking culture. She applied for the Journeyman program, a two-year mission experience, hoping to go to South America.
There wasn’t a need for social workers in South America so she spent two years in Ghana, working in a well baby clinic. This experience confirmed her call to missions, she said.
She went to seminary and met her husband Jim. Then an opening for ministry in South America became avaiable.
The couple served in Chile for 18 years.
It was hard, as it is for many missionary families, to transition back to life in America when they returned, she said. People often talk about culture shock when they first go to a foreign land, but coming back can be a reverse shock, she said.
They had to get used to the American value system again, focusing on time and a faster pace.
The Dobbins had become accustomed to a slower pace in a culture that focused on family, had local markets to shop in and had no time restraints.
Dobbins brought a little part of Chile back with her to the U.S., her daughter, Anita. They adopted Anita when she was 15 months old. She is now following in her mother's footsteps in social work, serving as a foster care specialist with Sunrise Children’s Home.
After returning to the U.S., Dobbins first worked with the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children and has worked with Hosparus for eight years.
Dobbins came full circle from an interest in something she didn’t even know the name of as a child, to mission work, to her current work at Hosparus, she said.
She always had passion to help people who have experienced loss and serves as the clinical coordinator for social work and bereavement services and a grief counselor.
“It’s the perfect fit for me right now,” she said.
Her job is to coordinate the bereavement program and social work program. She mentors other social workers who go out with the patients and provides clinical supervision.
As a grief counselor, she feels it’s important to be fully present with the person she talks with the minute they walk in the door. During that time, she connects with them and gives them all she has, she said.
For her own mental health she also realizes that while she’s dedicated to a person in secession, she can’t carry the weight of it with her all the time or she’d be overwhelmed.
Sometimes when she leaves for the day she gets in the car, takes a deep breath and tells herself she’s done all she can do for her clients that day.
Because what she does is patient and family focused, Dobbins sees her work as a match with the gifts God has given her. She can listen to people and join them where they are, journeying with them during a challenging part of their life, she said.
“It is such a sacred experience to work with people during this time in their lives,” she said. “I don’t take that lightly.”
As a counselor, her most important job is to encourage people and help them find their strengths.
But her work with Hosparus isn’t just beneficial to the patients. She’s learned something very valuable herself.
“Hosparus teaches me every day the importance of living every day to the fullest,” she said.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting to know Wanda Dobbins