Volunteer lauded for selfless work

Even a lifetime of service can sometimes go overlooked, but on Monday, Kent resident Sister Janet Benish’s unselfish life was recognized statewide.

  • Friday, May 2, 2008 7:41pm
  • News

Sister Janet Benish rocks an infant to sleep while volunteering Wednesday at Kent’s Pediatric Interim Care Center

Governor gives award

Even a lifetime of service can sometimes go overlooked, but on Monday, Kent resident Sister Janet Benish’s unselfish life was recognized statewide.

Sister Benish, who has been a Catholic nun for 52 years, has committed her life to the service of God and others. She received the Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Service Award Monday for that commitment, an honor given annually by the Washington Commission for National and Community Service.

“It’s been wonderful,” she said of her life as a devoted nun and volunteer. “Everybody has hard times and good times, but it’s been very satisfying. It’s just what I’m supposed to do.”

The 87-year-old was born in Denver, Colo., but has lived in Kent for most of two decades. All of that time, she has been active in the Kent community and as a member of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, called RSVP.

She has volunteered more than 10,000 hours with RSVP, crocheting hats and scarves for the homeless for the organization’s Knit-It-Alls program.

“Janet has done so much, yet she remains so humble,” said Robin Knudson, program coordinator at RSVP. “She has a quiet, selfless nature yet she has made an irreplaceable impact in the community. She truly has a servant’s heart.”

Benish also volunteers at the Kent Senior Activities Center, the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Partnership and the Pediatric Interim Care Center on a regular basis. She said her favorite is the Pediatric Care Center, often called PICC, where she volunteers as a “cuddler” to comfort the drug-exposed infants.

“I try and comfort the babies and pray that they come through this difficult time, and I also do laundry and empty wastebaskets and whatever else needs to be done,” she said of her duties at PICC.

Barbara Drennen, executive director at PICC, said she knows Sister Benish well and called her one of her favorite people.

“Sister Benish is an angel in our eyes,” Drennen said. “When she comes down to hold the babies, everyone goes out of their way to give her babies to hold. She’s very special to everyone here. We love her.”

Benish said she became a nun at the age of 35. Around that time, she was confronted about her faith at a party and decided to seek out what that faith really meant. The search led her to her current life as a nun. She lived in a cloister with other nuns for many years, but she has more recently lived what she calls a “hermit” lifestyle, living alone while still keeping the vows she took years ago.

She said the simple lifestyle she leads has kept her young, and she hopes it will help her continue to do her life’s work in the future.

“For me, it’s just a way of being of service and at the same time a way of keeping my own health, both physically and mentally,” she said. “Early hours, simple food and manual work. It’s kept me going all these years.”

She thanks RSVP for making it easier for her and other seniors to get involved in volunteer activities.

“RSVP reminds seniors that they have something to contribute,” she said. “It may not seem like much, but it makes a difference, and the volunteers say they receive much more than they give.”

Seniors interested in volunteering or learning more about RSVP should contact Jennifer Gahagan at jeng@solid-ground.org or 206-957-4779, ext. 122.

Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or dmooney@reporternewspapers.com.

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