Chris Delnat, a social worker turned stay-at-home mom, successfully lobbied to expand services for the developmentally disabled – including her son. Terri Moore worked with her husband in the family’s oil business and, as a community activist, fought the dumping of out-of-state trash in Indiana. Ann Venable followed her siblings into financial services and crunched numbers as an accountant.
At mid-life, the three women decided to continue their educations at Indiana State University and found themselves united by a common goal: They wanted to do more to help people.
After graduating with nursing degrees in May 2010, they’re helping Hoosiers by filling one of the most in demand – and demanding – jobs around. Delnat and Venable work at Union Hospital in Terre Haute while Moore is employed at the Roudebush Veterans Administration Medical Center in Indianapolis. All three volunteer at St. Ann Clinic, a not-for-profit outreach of the Sisters of Providence on Terre Haute’s near north side.
“I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was a little girl and a librarian gave me a book about ‘Cherry Ames: Student Nurse’,” said Delnat, 52, who spent her early years in Agana, Guam where her father was a teacher.
The heroine in the 27-book series of Cherry Ames mystery novels was a “nurse Nancy Drew and I actually have wanted to be a nurse ever since that librarian handed me that book when I was 9,” she said. “I taught my youngest child all the way through his education and when he got close to graduation I decided that I would like to do something else with my life.”
Delnat had already accomplished much. One of her four children is autistic and mentally disabled and still requires care at age 30. Her experience in trying to juggle work and care for her disabled son prompted her to become involved in a five-year effort at the Statehouse to secure home-care coverage under Medicaid for persons with disabilities. She then became a Medicaid waiver case-manager and worked to help other families keep from institutionalizing their children.
She became president of her local autism society chapter and founded the Autism Society of Indiana and was the founding director of the Wabash Independent Learning and Living Center in Terre Haute, which serves people with disabilities. It was only after achieving all of those goals that she enrolled in the ISU nursing program.
In the early 1990s, Moore, 54, of Center Point, led a grassroots effort that prompted new restrictions on the disposal of out-of-state trash in Indiana after trainloads of East Coast garbage were dumped at the Center Point Landfill. She said her activist background now helps her look out for her patients.
“On a daily basis as a nurse you’re an advocate for your patients so the roles were very similar in that you had to have a lot of understanding of what you were doing and be well educated as well as be an advocate,” she said.
Moore worked previously in medical technology after completing a certificate at Indiana Vocational Technical School (now Ivy Tech Community College).
“I made it one of my lifelong goals to go back to school at some point in my life after my children grew up,” she said. “My grandmother was aging and I was doing a lot of care giving. That seemed to be something very natural for me and at this age and stage in my life ‘Dr.’ was not in my vocabulary.”
Moore began volunteering at St. Ann Clinic in December 2005 – a move she calls an “epiphany” that told her nursing was her calling. She said she knew for the first time in decades that she was “a round peg in a round hole.”
Venable, 51, of Terre Haute, was pursuing a biology degree at Indiana State when she decided to volunteer at St. Ann’s to gain clinical experience and also found her calling thanks to the not-for-profit clinic which provides primary care and referrals to low-income persons without a family physician and who do not have medical insurance, Medicaid or Medicare.
“I kind of followed in the footsteps of my siblings who were all in accounting and in the financial area, but as I grew older and my kids grew up, I realized that my heart was not really in it and I wanted to pursue this thing that was of much greater interest to me,” she said. “It involves more contact with people on a day-to-day basis.”
Though older than some of their professors, Delnat, Moore and Venable said faculty and students in ISU’s College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services welcomed them and their life experiences. All three are continuing their educations at Indiana State as they pursue master’s degrees in nursing.
“I have had the most fun in the last four years that I’ve had in my entire life. Indiana State University has given me a new direction in my life. I love the faculty and I love the students,” said Delnat. “It was surprising to me to find out that the years of life experience that I had actually prepared me remarkably well to be quite successful in the academic environment. The young kids struggled to find out how to manage their multiple responsibilities and juggle all the things in life that all of a sudden they’re responsible for and, of course, as somebody who is a bit seasoned, I have had many years of experience doing that.”
Moore said “the biggest fear I had was fear itself” when she decided to return to college to complete her nursing degree.
“I was afraid that I wouldn’t be accepted because I was older. I had a lot of fear that I might be looked down upon, but it didn’t take long before I was accepted. It was so beneficial not only to me, but it was beneficial, I believe, to my fellow students so that they could have a good understanding that even though we weren’t young that we still had a great contribution still to make to society,” she said.
Venable said expectations can be higher for older students “but that’s fine by me because I think it’s great to have high expectations. We had excellent instruction and the faculty were just fantastic from beginning to end.”
While volunteering at St. Ann Clinic may initially have been a way for the nurses to gain needed clinical experience, all three said they intend to continue to do so.
“I’m one of the most fortunate people that I know,” said Delnat. “I guess having a son with severe disabilities it really comes into your heart how fate plays a significant role in the path that your life will take. My son was born with severe mental retardation. I have been given a pretty sharp intellect and the ability to write and the ability to serve with my hands. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be given those gifts here in this life should utilize them to their fullest capacity.”
Delnat hopes to one day establish a similar clinic for her less fortunate neighbors in West Terre Haute.
“This is something that I can do. I can give of my time and knowledge and perhaps make life a little better for somebody who probably didn’t do much to deserve the little path that they’re on any more than my son did,” she said. “I was inspired by the professors who volunteer here at St. Ann’s.”
Moore said everyone should give something back to their community.
“Most of us have received a gift in some way, shape or form from our community or from society. We need to be able to pay forward. What St. Ann allowed me to do is find my way and it’s very important for me to give back. Now that I’m blessed with a job and a nice opportunity in my life, I feel real blessed that I can give back to those who are less fortunate. There are opportunities in all fields but especially in the medical field, we all need to have a heart of service,” she said.
Venable said nurses can give back in ways few other professions can.
“The thing I really like about nursing is that we get to have this very, almost, intimate relationship with people, helping them and seeing them through very difficult times,” she said.
Dave Taylor is the director of media relations at Indiana State University.