Bonita was raised in rural West Tennessee. She is a retired teacher, mother of two children, the wife of an army veteran who is disabled, and the only child of a WWII army veteran who is also disabled. Most notably, Bonita is a fierce advocate for equal access to medically necessary services.
Bonita says, “My father raised me to stand up for the things that make our country and community stronger. Dad made sure I understood the value of hard work.” Bonita did her share of it on their small Tennessee farm: “I picked cotton for three cents a pound and knew how to throw a fifty pound bale of hay to stack five high on the back of a farm truck. And so I grew up believing that if I worked hard every day and had faith in myself, I could make my life better and improve the lives of others by doing so. But always just one step away from financial ruin because my family had no health insurance, I didn’t know until later just how close I always walked to that reality.”
Growing up an only child, Bonita learned from her mother the value of humility and determination. Bonita’s mother was raised in a large family during the Great Depression. Bonita credits her mother for knowing the difference between wants and needs, and for being grateful for what you have. Bonita’s mother joined the workforce to help support her family. She worked a factory job, and when she could not afford the continuing cost of childcare, she became a beautician. She opened a beauty shop attached to their home. Some of Bonita’s fondest childhood memories were sitting in her mother’s clients’ laps as her mother styled and cut hair.
After her father’s death, Bonita’s mother, Dorothy, was diagnosed with dementia. For a few years, Dorothy was able to continue living on her own. But by 2009, Dorothy moved into an assisted living facility. By 2014, her level of care needs increased dramatically. Bonita contacted the Area Agency on Aging and Disability to review Dorothy for eligibility for long-term care, called the CHIOCES program. Dorothy’s medical evaluation was approved for nursing home care, and she moved to a nearby nursing home.
At the same time Dorothy’s medical eligibility was to be evaluated, TennCare was looking at whether or not she was financially eligible for long-term care. Months passed without word from the state on her eligibility. Bonita did everything she could, but with the state not responding, she knew she needed assistance. By the time she found TJC, Bonita’s mother faced possible eviction from the nursing home. TJC intervened and forced the state to rule on Dorothy’s eligibility. In the end, Bonita’s fierce love and advocate instincts prevailed. Her mother qualified both medically and financially for the nursing home, where she lived with the level of medical care she needed until she quietly passed away in March.
Bonita made sure her mother was comfortable and received the nursing home care she needed. Even after her mother’s death, Bonita continues to advocate for others who cannot advocate for themselves. “It is my hope that we all can learn something from my struggles with our health care system. Without knowledge of its flaws, we cannot improve it. Without compassion in our hearts, we cannot mend it. Without a voice, those who suffer in silence will never be heard. That voice may as well be mine.” For her unwavering strength in getting her mother the care she needed, TJC is honored to name Bonita a Daughter of the Year.
Photography credit: Lenny Burnett