Helping families care for their senior loved ones
Founder/Executive Director of Veranda Ministries
Debbie Bennett has spent most of her adult life in one supportive role or another. Married for more than 25 years to Roger Bennett, former pianist for the Cathedral Quartet, and co-founder, pianist, vocalist and emcee for Legacy Five, Debbie filled many roles. She has thrived behind the scenes as wife and mother, even co-wrote several award-winning songs with Roger. However, her most challenging role was that of caregiver during Roger’s 11 and a half year battle with leukemia, which claimed his life on earth in 2007.
Since then, Debbie has published a book about that journey through cancer. She maintains a blog that is visited by thousands, and she actively volunteers. In addition to serving as chairperson of Veranda Ministries board, she is a volunteer at The Veranda, a respite program through Veranda Ministries. Debbie also works with the National Marrow Donor Program and travels the country to transport bone marrow and cells from donors to patients awaiting transplant.
Debbie and Mary Anne connected in December 2011, through a third party Facebook post asking for help for a senior citizen who was in serious need. A strong bond formed immediately, and a deep friendship began. Early in their friendship, her father’s health was failing due to dementia, and Mary Anne was there to shed light and support Debbie and her family. Also during this time, Mary Anne’s vision of The Veranda came about, and it was easy for Debbie to catch the vision and excitement of the ministry.
“I’ve seen the hands-on proof of what The Lord can do in the lives of people who society thinks have no value left. Moreover, I have seen in others, and felt in my own heart the sheer joy that comes from ministering in this capacity. I’ve grown as a person and received many more blessings than I deserve, because I believe that God honors us when we respect those who have paved the way for us. I’m very excited to see where the next chapter of ministry will lead!”
Debbie currently resides in Franklin, Tenn., with her daughter, Chelsea, and one cat, Huw. Her son Jordan and his wife Jessica live near Atlanta, Ga., with their two dogs.
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Mary Anne Oglesby-Sutherly
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Chair, Veranda Ministries Board of Directors
Mary Anne Oglesby-Sutherly shares her story and her daily journey of caring and advocating for senior adults. Mary Anne’s presentation, which often blends speaking and singing, is based on her more than 15 years of experience in the senior care industry. Her experience in activity programs at assisted living facilities, at a day program and coordinating a care provider service have helped establish the foundation for her presentation. Her enlightening approach can help today’s churches, senior adults and families address issues relating to senior adult living. Her compassion, love and concern for the well-being of the senior adult population led to the creation of Veranda Ministries and the launch of The Veranda, a congregational respite program affiliated with Impact Fellowship Church in Gallatin, Tenn.
When a change in a Tennessee state law in 2017 resulted in barriers for churches who offer respite programs as a ministry to continue operating, Mary Anne enlisted the help of her local legislators. They spearheaded an almost year-long effort to exempt churches from the state licensure requirement linked to the adult day care statute. Their efforts paid off when the legislation—House Bill 1498 and Senate Bill 1487— unanimously passed during the 110th Tennessee General Assembly and was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam on April 2, 2018.
A certified dementia practitioner, Mary Anne holds dual certification as PAC consultant and coach in Teepa Snow's "Positive Approach to Care®" and also is certified in Alzheimer’s care by both the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer's Federation of America.She also currently serves as vice president of legislative affairs for Tennessee Association of Adult Day Services (TAADS).
She has appeared on the Nashville Public Television's "NPT Reports: Aging Matters," a series designed to open a community-based conversation about what Middle Tennessee's older citizens need to optimize their quality of life and helping prepare communities for the coming explosion in the aging population.
In March 2018, Mary Anne was recognized during "Huck's Heroes," a special segment of Gov. Mike Huckabee's show "Huckabee" that airs nationally on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN.) Her selection as a "Huck's Hero" resulted from her vision of establishing Veranda Ministries and its work in Sumner County.
In July 2017, Mary Anne released her book "Remember for Me: Life Lessons from Those Living with Dementia." Through heartwarming stories, she introduces readers to some members of The Veranda family and shares many lessons from her long career of serving the senior adult population.
“Our nation is on the verge of a crisis in addressing the various needs of our senior adult population. Seniors and their families are having a hard time knowing where to turn for guidance, help and understanding, and I believe the churches should be on the forefront helping in this task,” she said. “God told Moses in Deuteronomy 5:16 that in order for us to have a long, happy life, we must honor our fathers and mothers. It is a commandment by God, but a promise for us as well.
“I strongly believe it’s our Christian duty to treat our senior adults with respect and dignity and to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves,” she said. “Churches should be prepared to teach their members what it means to help senior adults find and fulfill their roles in the church, and that is one of the reasons behind my ministry. My path is their journey. It’s an honor for me to help churches and families learn how to celebrate the blessings that our seniors bring to our lives.”
An Arkansas native, Mary Anne and her husband Dwight live in the Nashville, Tenn., area. In addition to her work with senior adults, she has spent a majority of her life singing Gospel music. She is a private vocal coach and staff member of the Steve Hurst School of Music. Her son, Matt, lives in Springdale, Ark.