2014 WASHINGTONIANS OF THE YEAR
We are SO proud and excited to send out our congratulations to Carol Pensky, longtime board member and supporter of the Wendt Center, who was honored as one of 2014’s “Washingtonians of the Year.”
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CAROL PENSKY HELPING NAVIGATE GRIEF AND LOSS
by Leslie Milk
Carol Pensky met William Wendt, founder of what was then the St. Francis Center, in 1983 after her mother died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. A social worker from the center for the terminally ill and bereaved had been a comfort to her mom and mentioned Pensky to Wendt. He reached out to her and, as she puts it, “it was love at first sight.”
An Episcopal priest, Wendt believed in the power of presence, being there for people at the end of life and their loved ones. Pensky has been there ever since as a volunteer leader of the renamed Wendt Center for Loss and Healing. “It’s no exaggeration to say the center is here today in large part because of the efforts of Carol,” says executive director Michelle Palmer.
Pensky has been instrumental in widening the organization’s reach. She encouraged the center, in Northwest DC, to open an office in Anacostia, where residents in high-risk neighborhoods suffer disproportionately from family loss and violence. She and her husband, David, provided seed money for the center’s first program for kids. Staff go where the children are, running therapy groups in more than 20 District schools. Says Pensky: “We have evidence that 85 percent of the kids receiving counseling have shown an absence of depression and anxiety compared to other children who have experienced traumatic losses.” She often joins in the center’s sleep-away camp, where children and volunteers are united by their common experience of losing a loved one.
William Wendt gave Pensky a great gift, she says. He told her of being called to New York by an old friend whose wife had terminal cancer. The wife had asked for Wendt because she knew he would come just to be with her. He did, offering simple comforts like rubbing her feet. The day before Wendt himself died in 2001, Pensky visited him. “I rubbed his feet,” she says.