Until five years ago, Lorna Hensley used to watch mothers with big families in the grocery store and wonder how they did it. “I remember those mothers coming in with a gaggle of children,” she wrote in a speech for her local Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) organization. “Their hair looked like some sad tangled tumbleweed, and they usually had a few Cheerios stuck in various and strange places on their bodies…I always wondered how in the world it felt to stand in [their] shoes.” Lorna didn’t know it then, but she was about to become one those moms herself.
Lorna, who was then working as a nurse, and her husband Ronnie, a warehouse manager, had three young daughters of their own: Ireland, Hannah, and Cloe. But in March of 2010, with the help of CASA, they adopted Ronnie’s brother’s three children. Elizabeth, Rebecca, and baby Colton had been abused and neglected. Before long, Rebecca and Colton began to show developmental delays. “We were the only family capable of keeping the children from the foster care system,” Lorna wrote. “It was a big decision.” Lorna quit her job to care for the children, cutting the family’s income in half. Her daughters had to adjust to three new siblings in the house. But with time, the family grew stronger. “They say God never gives us more than we can handle,” Lorna wrote. “He, in all his wisdom, knew what our family lacked when we could not even conceive it.”
In the spring of 2014, a change in Ronnie’s job moved the family from Virginia to Bluff City, Tennessee. In Virginia, they had depended on the state Medicaid program to provide healthcare to the family, especially for Rebecca, whose developmental delays required speech and behavioral therapy. In June, the family applied for TennCare. But like thousands of families across Tennessee, they got caught in a complicated web of red tape and miscommunication. Months went by without a decision from TennCare. “We were just lost,” Lorna said. “We were getting so many different phone numbers, but nobody would help us.” Meanwhile, the family was paying out of pocket for medical expenses. Rebecca, who has autism, was unable to continue her speech therapy and social skills therapy. Ronnie developed multiple allergic reactions and had to be rushed to the hospital. He eventually learned he had an autoimmune disorder, and had to go on medical leave from work.
Then, in September, a social worker at Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport referred the family to TJC. Armed with knowledge of the complex law that protected the kids, and guaranteed that the state decide on their coverage, TJC advocated for the children and got them coverage quickly.
“When we got ahold of TJC, the ball started rolling,” Lorna said. “Within two or three weeks, I was able to take Rebecca to the doctor.” Rebecca resumed her therapy, and even enrolled in a new therapy program at a local college. Ronnie was able to get his autoimmune condition treated, and soon returned to work. “You listened, and you cared,” Lorna said of TJC’s advocates. “You all had compassion.”
Five years after her family nearly doubled in size, Lorna is still a tireless advocate for her children. And she’s embraced the frazzled mom look. “I can handle the Cheerios and the frazzled hair,” she wrote in her speech for CASA. “They are just the signs of my joy.” For her tireless dedication to her six children, TJC celebrates Lorna, one of our Mothers of the Year.
Photography credit: Mark Mosrie