Besa Heroes: A Q&A with Tenisha Mitchell

Besa is an army of change agents, difference makers and superheroes who, one act of kindness at a time, are lifting this city. In our Besa Heroes series, we highlight partners in good. Here, we talk with Tenisha Mitchell, who helps run National Church Residences Center for Senior Health—a senior daycare center.

Click to see Tenisha in action.

Q: Why do you do what you do?

A: I love people. It will always start with that. I grew up with a strict church background, and we were always taught to care for and love others. Love is not something you just talk about—you show it in action.

Q: What is adult daycare?

A: Adult daycare is probably the best-kept secret as far as healthcare is concerned. It is meant to help keep our elders in their homes or with their families while providing respite care for the families or caregivers. It gives our clients the opportunity to interact with others who are facing similar issues. One of the biggest things that our clients battle is isolation, so adult daycare allows them to know they are not alone. We’ve had clients who have dated one another, who have married one another, who travel together. It becomes a big family.

Q: What is the best part of what you do?

A: Our clients and their history. Their contribution is so rich. When I first started, I was overwhelmed by the fact that we had clients from all different backgrounds: musicians, doctors, journalists. They had so much information to share. You see this sparkle in their eyes when they start to talk about their best memories. Our activities—like our civic program where they are given the opportunity to raise money to help other people—bring them such happiness.

Q: This work is very personal for you. Why?

A: My grandmother was a client of this particular adult day service, and that started when I was 8 years old. She was a diabetic who had a stroke and could no longer provide care for herself. That changed how she viewed herself, and she lost the desire to live. She started as a client and the sparkle came back in her eyes. She enjoyed spending time with her driver, with the friends she made, her nurse, her social worker. She enjoyed the activities, and she really had something to look forward to. I believe having the adult day care center extended her life by years.

Q: What are some activities you offer?

A: Traveling gospel choir. Senior prom, with a king and a queen. Bingo. They love bingo! We recently started a program called Music Memory where they get to pick songs from their era and listen to that music. They then share memories or feelings associated to that music. My favorite activity is Conversation Dice. It encourages the use of long-term memory. The dice might read, “Tell us about your first boyfriend… your first kiss… your favorite teacher.” It brings back great memories. They get to open up and be free and share with one another.

Q: What’s the best memory you’ve ever heard the conversation dice compel?

A: I had a client who didn’t do much talking, but he participated in this game. He rolled the dice, and it said “Tell us about your first kiss.” He responded with, “I’ve never been kissed before, but I’ve gotten some nookie.” I laughed for a full 10 minutes.

Q: How does Besa amplify the work you’re doing here?

A: Besa volunteers bring the energy that our clients look forward to getting. Some of the activities that Besa has provided are not activities that our clients are used to receiving, like polishing nails. With that, our clients got one-on-one time with a volunteer who was really interested in getting to know them. That was major. For Besa to come in as often as they do and bring in different people of different ages—our clients know they’re loved.

Q: What do you think about Besa’s work community wide?

A: There are so many people who need help. Besa touches so many lives. From coming to spend a day with our seniors to rebuilding stuff, their care is infectious. Each year, my family takes a day to give to a project. I know that this holiday season we will work with Besa. They make people want to give back, which is a well-accomplished goal.

Q: As we move into our Adopt A Senior Secret Santa program for this year, can you help people understand what receiving a gift might mean for these seniors?

A: It could be life-changing for some. The people within our center may be the only family that our clients know. They leave us and sit in their apartment alone. For them to receive a gift, it would be the gift that keeps on giving.

Adopt A Senior goes live Nov. 1. To adopt a senior or volunteer with seniors year-round, visit Besa's website.