Bringing hope to children in foster care
R-C Alpine Bureau
You don’t meet many people who are truly thankful for the suffering they have endured in their lives. Dale Bennett is one of those remarkable individuals who has the depth to see beyond the struggles, and recognize the gifts they contain. Dale wouldn’t change anything about her life, knowing that each challenge has made her who she is today, and given her the strength to open her heart to children in the difficult position of being put in foster care. She says she does this “So kids don’t have to go through what I did”.
Born in Schurz, Nev., Dale and her family were living in Dresslerville when she and her older brother and sister were “removed” from their home and family. She remembers the moment clearly even though she was only 5 years old. She was playing hide and seek in the school yard when social services came out to get her. Everything about her life was changed from that time on.
It was frightening, and she was thankful she had her older sister and brother there with her. In the kind foster homes she was in, this was a true comfort. Her sister became her rock, and was always there for her. Her brother became her protector, watching over her in any way he could. Because these bonds were so strong, in the homes she stayed in that were bad, they would threaten to split them apart to make them keep quiet about the conditions they were living in.
Their first stop had been the Children’s Home in Carson City, where they were treated with warmth and concern, even though everything was completely different from their previous life. Over the next five years, they were in seven separate homes and they changed schools every time. Two of these homes were good to them, and that was how the seeds of being a foster parent herself someday were planted for Dale.
Dale had a sister who was much older and living in San Francisco. She was able to complete the paperwork to bring them back to live with her for a time. It was a wonderful taste of freedom, but as they grew older, they ended up being sent to different schools. Dale went to Stewart Indian School in Carson City, her sister to Los Angeles, and her brother to Elko. Dale eventually transferred to Phoenix Indian School in Arizona where she met her first husband, and had her first three children.
It was at Stewart that Dale learned to bead from Dolores Ellis. Her first project was a headband: her second a belt with five roses. Dale has a true artistic gift, and will stay up into the wee hours of the night when she feels inspired. Her work is highly regarded and sought after in Alpine. She feels her best project was a beaded basket made for a graduation present. One of her beaded vests was worn to the Academy Awards, and she receives constant requests for her detailed and beautifully designed pieces. Currently, she is making beaded pink ribbons in honor of her sister, to be donated and used as a fund raiser for Pop Warner football.
The next eight years were filled with family, travel, and rodeos, but Dale was forced to leave and start her life over again. She and the children stayed with her relatives in San Francisco once again, but eventually moved to Bridgeport where she was able to spend time with her biological father. It was here that her appendix burst, and after loosing her three times on the helicopter ride to the hospital, she was in a coma for three months. She had a very comforting near-death experience that has added to her bravery, making her truly “not scared of anything”.
Dale has never held onto any bitterness or anger. She prefers to take what has happened and find something useful to take away from the experience. This is why Dale makes sure that the children in her care are directed to be self-reliant. She creates an environment for them to understand who they are and how they fit into the world, making sure they know how to take care of themselves.
Dale always dreamed of having ten children when she was little, a goal she has realized six times over, taking care of over 60 foster children. Some stayed overnight, some for weeks, and many for years. She and her husband Greg Bennett have been foster parents now for 25 years. Starting with three children when they married, they went on to have two more together. Recently they welcomed another two girls into their family, and now they also have six granddaughters. They have always asked their children before bringing any new child into their home, making it a real group effort.
When all five of their own children were still at home, Greg and Dale got involved in community programs, particularly the Police Athletic League. Their decision to become foster parents happened naturally from here. There were children who needed help, and they were willing to offer them the stability and balance they needed. First, they worked only with the Washoe tribe, but when they saw how big the need for help was, they started working with the state program.
Dale is a driver for Alpine County Community Development, and Greg has his own firewood business. They are well-known for making the very best Indian tacos. People will drive miles out of their way to get them. They use big chunks of meat, Greg’s special recipe chili beans and homemade salsa. Everyone loves them. This is a family activity too, and everyone in their household is included. Both Greg and Dale continue to work so many hours to make sure the children are well cared for and to keep them active in sports. They are a high-energy household, and that makes Dale happy. Currently, they have 8 children living with them, including one granddaughter.
The majority of the foster children who come to them are scared when they arrive, but Dale knows firsthand how it feels to come into new home. Dale understands that they do not want to be questioned, and she treats them like they have already been there awhile. This allows them time to get their bearings. It is extremely hard job being a foster parent, but Greg and Dale are willing to give the energy and time required. When Dale listens to the children’s stories, she sees how much hurt there has been. Most have seen far too much. Because of the love and dedication of Dale and Greg, these children have been offered real hope for better lives.