When RaShelle Hensley was about 7 years old, her parents became foster parents. About two dozen foster children cycled through their home over the next four years.
The experience inspired RaShelle in part to become a social worker herself. Since 2006, she has been director of social services at Salina Presbyterian Manor.
When she first applied for the job, RaShelle wasn’t sure she was prepared to work with older adults. Her clients had been mostly mothers and children. But after a few weeks at Presbyterian Manor, she said, “I realized this was where I was supposed to work.” In senior living, RaShelle said, it has been easier to nurture relationships, and the slower pace helps.
“My job is all about building those relationships and keeping the lines of communication open, and encouraging people to come to me if there is a concern — not just with families, but with residents and the nursing staff. They’re the ones I depend on to follow through on a lot of things,” she said.
Social workers play a vital role in senior living communities. They serve as a liaison between a community and residents and their families. They help people transition to life in the community after a move. Sometimes, they just listen.
Margaret Presley, who taught RaShelle at Bethany College, remembers a time when RaShelle was uncertain that she could do social work or work with anyone but children. But since then Margaret said she has enjoyed watching her blossom. “She would periodically consult with me about ethical or other problematic matters. I always felt that she was on the mark with her judgment,” the professor said.
RaShelle is waiting to hear if she has been accepted into the master of social work program at the University of Kansas. “I feel like with my masters I will be able to go further and add more support,” she said. “Mental health with the elderly is a hot topic. I want to have more skills and the knowledge base to address any mental health issues my residents have.”
If accepted, RaShelle will begin studies this summer at KU’s Johnson County campus. She said the Saturday classes will fit into her routine of traveling to Lawrence most weekends to see her three sons and her grandson (“who is perfect,” says the proud grandma).
In her admissions essay, RaShelle reflected on how her childhood experience influenced her: “I learned a lot about empathy, compassion, and respect for diversity as my parents cared for children of different races, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Clearly her family influenced those children, too. About two years ago, one young man reconnected with RaShelle’s family. He first came to their home when he was two, and her parents stayed close with his mother and him until they moved away. “He has been through a lot of stuff, but he seems to have turned it around,” RaShelle said. “It was goosebumps after all those years.”