The Tennessee Justice Center is honored to recognize Ms. Donzleigh Weatherford as a 2022 caregiver of the year for her love and dedication to her family, particularly to her brothers Willie and Charles, who sadly passed away in 2021.
Ms. Weatherford was born and raised in Tennessee as the youngest of four children. She grew up in Nashville but would spend time at her grandfather’s home in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee where they all worked in his store.
Ms. Weatherford was very close to her mother and growing up her mother instilled the value of always being there for the family. At the age of fifteen, Ms. Weatherford decided to work at Baptist Hospital and after that she worked at Third National Bank and Commerce Union Bank as a teller. After this, Ms. Weatherford worked for Piedmont Natural Gas for 38 years. Ms. Weatherford has one daughter and three grandchildren and has helped support them throughout their lives. Ms. Weatherford’s granddaughter is now an RN in Atlanta, Georgia and her eldest grandson works with Amazon. Ms. Weatherford is proud of her grandchildren and is happy that her hard work has contributed to their success. As her daughter tells everyone, “My mother knows how to do anything.”
As Ms. Weatherford’s parents began to age, she took the lead in caring for them and making them as comfortable as possible. After they passed away, Ms. Weatherford realized that even though she was the baby, she would have to be the one to support her siblings through rough times and help them when they were in need – particularly with her eldest brother, Charles, when she recognized that he was suffering from dementia.
Charles was always very quiet, but he loved to sing. He was very generous but suffered from mental health disorders growing up. For many years his mental health disorders would go untreated because the health care system didn’t provide much support. After their mother and his long-term girlfriend passed away Charles became homeless for a time.
After Ms. Weatherford retired, she began spending more time with her siblings and realized that Charles’ mental health was deteriorating. She called any resource she could find to get him safe housing and healthcare. After she secured housing and a spot for him on the TennCare CHOICES program, Charles was able to stay safely at home. Ms. Weatherford also figured out how to become a hired caregiver to get some compensation for just a small fraction of the countless hours she dedicated to him. She was even asked if she would be willing to be a caregiver for others because of her hard work and dedication.
When Charles’ home care hours were at risk Ms. Weatherford found the Tennessee Justice Center. Charles needed secure hours of home care because at any time he would leave the house and walk for hours on end, sometimes forgetting how to return. Ms. Weatherford then had to drive around to find him on the street.
TJC helped the family make sure his home care hours would not be reduced. TJC also realized that Charles was not receiving everything he was eligible for and helped get his Medicare Part A reinstated which would cut down on healthcare costs if he had to be hospitalized.
Sadly, Charles passed away in 2021. Ms. Weatherford still misses her brother deeply. She remembers the times when they would sit on the porch and sing together. Though it was hard taking care of him, she thanks God for allowing her to be around him towards the end of his life. She is grateful she never had to experience getting a call from some stranger saying he died while out on the streets.
Ms. Weatherford’s other brother, Willie, is very different from Charles. A man of few words, he is a hard worker and worked at the State of Tennessee for 20 years. After this, he worked for Iron Mountain until he was 64 years old.
Ms. Weatherford remembered that TJC helped Charles and so she reached out to TJC again to learn about any assistance we could provide to Willie. After looking at his case, TJC helped Willie enroll in a Medicare Savings Program (MSP) and SNAP.
TJC’s help has meant so much to Ms. Weatherford. Though she is not used to asking for help she is so glad she found TJC. She was not familiar with all the programs and TJC’s help encouraged her to keep advocating for her brothers. “Without your organization I would not have gotten there, I would probably still be struggling.” Ms. Weatherford enjoyed working with Vanessa at TJC. “Vanessa was a very nice person to work with; she was very knowledgeable. I appreciate her so much, for helping with my brothers.”
Ms. Weatherford recognizes the struggles many older people and people with trauma face every day. She has spent so many years helping others that at times she is worn down, but it is just not in her heart to ever give up on helping others, especially her family. “To me, when someone is older than me and they need some help, and you know they need their help, you just need to reach out and help them.”
As Ms. Weatherford says, “Just think, if everyone took a chance and helped somebody, how this world would be today.” While she will never stop helping others, Ms. Weatherford hopes that if her health conditions allow, she will be able to return to her passions of swimming, bowling, skating, and travelling.
Photographs by Lisa Link