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GrapeVine Project Parish Nurse Highlight

Meet Shirley Bennett, Parish Nurse

Shirley Bennett

Shirley Bennett was trained in WWHF’s GrapeVine Project in September 2012. She is a Parish Nurse at the Congregation of St. Mary’s and St. Paul’s in Mineral Point where she has presented a GrapeVine educational session. She also shares presentations and participates in outreach with United Church of Christ in Mineral Point.

The GrapeVine Project is a free health education program for women presented by Faith Community/Parish Nurses (FCNs) right in your own community! The Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation partners with FCNs throughout the state by providing them with tools and educational information about various health topics. Holding free educational sessions, the nurses then share the information with women in their communities. Sessions can be held anywhere!


What is your favorite aspect of Faith Community Nursing/what made you want to become a FCN?

SB: My initial inspiration for getting involved in faith community nursing came from a dear friend and coworker who was the Lutheran Parish Nurse from Barneveld. I had always thought very highly of her and saw the impact that she was making in her community.  She propelled my decision to become a FCN.  Although I did not think I could ever be her (I still don’t), after retiring in 2011, I felt I had a responsibility to continue sharing my knowledge and clinical experience so I could be that source of support to my community.   

As the first Parish Nurse of the Congregation of St. Mary’s and St. Paul’s I’ve enjoyed the evolving responsibilities of my role. Education and the increasingly advocacy-based components are the most rewarding aspects of being a FCN.  Informing my congregation about community resources and organizing activities promoting well-being provides me with the opportunity to increase health literacy. In the past, I’ve led a compression-only CPR training to 58 parishioners and 3 times a month I communicate via Parish Bulletin articles about health issues.  I also enjoy acting as an advocate for fellow parishioners with their health professionals. Often patients are left with unanswered questions and concerns when it comes to medical issues because their doctor does not have the time for extensive explanations or patients do not ask the questions.  As such, I am able to offer my knowledge and experience to address their concerns. Recently I gave an anatomy lesson to a woman who would be having surgery. The information about her organ placement helped her understand what was happening to her body.

Working in a rural community, my responsibilities are varied and always in response to interest and what people are in need of, whether that be educational programing, assessment, referral, or support navigating the medical system.  Although at times I am limited in what I can do, I enjoy working in an environment where I know everyone at a personal level. 

How or why did you get involved with the GrapeVine Project?

SB: I was first introduced to GrapeVine through Sue Richards, a fellow classmate in the Faith Community Nurse course at Viterbo. Sue roped me in with her enthusiasm and verve for the program. Additionally, Peggy Weber is another mentor that has answered many of my questions and been a fantastic resource.  Knowing such dedicated and spirited individuals were involved with GVP, I decided that joining was the right decision for me and am glad to be one of the GrapeVine Project’s nurses.    

What is your favorite part of the GrapeVine Project?

SB: GrapeVine is another way for me to expand my service to my community.  There is a peer group of other Parish Nurses for me to connect with and share ideas. I’ve enjoyed sharing breakfast with fellow nurses at The Egg & I because they offer a wealth of information and I am always interested to know what is going on at their churches, and if there is something I can incorporate in my community.  Before I joined GVP I did not realize that such a resource was available to FCNs.  I am also grateful for the abundance of free educational materials and programing because it allows me to be a better resource for my community.  I am trained in the cardiac session, have enjoyed presenting it to parishioners, and am looking forward to being trained in the other health topics available.   

What is a little known fact about you (what are your hobbies and interests)?

SB: I enjoy pursuing different professional experiences.  For example, this summer I am looking forward to embracing the role as a Camp Nurse and am excited to see what new experiences I will encounter.  Also, I work seasonally at Lands’ End because, when I was still working at the hospital, I took care of many individuals who worked there and wanted to better understand what their experiences were like.  I also love utilizing the benefit of the year round fitness center and pool that Lands’ End provides for all employees.

Although I do not always have the time, I love to read and enjoy trinity-based reads like those by William P. Young as well as other fiction including any book by Sue Monk Kidd. 

Do you have any stories about a session or a participant who contacted you after a session where you were able to help someone specifically because of the session – Go with them to a doctor appointment?

SB: When I presented the cardiac health session I had a few participants who experienced heart issues in the past. Through sharing their stories, they were able to provide a personal perspective and offer real life experiences that related to the material. For example, there was an individual that underwent a cardiac bypass and another that experienced a cardiac catheterization. Their accounts made the information that I was conveying much more real and powerful because individuals were able to contextualize the consequences of heart health. 

Anything else you would like to share (kids, grandkids, pets)?

SB: I graduated from St. Mary’s School of Nursing and for 43 years was actively employed as an RN primarily at Upland Hills Health in Dodgeville.  In a rural community you need to be a generalist, but my primary focus for most of my active years was the Emergency Department and Operating Room.  The last 15 years before my retirement I was the Surgical Case Manager, which has greatly benefitted me in my current role as a FCN.  I live in rural Mineral Point with my husband.  We have 3 children and 5 grandchildren.  We love spending time with all of them, especially attending all of our grandkids’ sporting and extracurricular activities.

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