Respecting her elders was engrained in Helen Brown from a young age; it was just a part of how she was raised growing up in Pennsylvania. Those values stayed with Brown as she came to Bethel College and were part of what drove her to a career in social work.
Part of her senior year requirements at Bethel called for a 400-hour placement, a task Brown fulfilled at Kidron Bethel in North Newton, giving her even more of a push towards a future of advocating for senior citizens.
"I just absolutely fell in love with the residents there and the tasks that I was given, the job, the interaction, the human touch aspect of it," Brown said. "The human connection was in all of the advocacy that I saw."
Following her graduation from Bethel College in 1994, Brown volunteered at Newton Presbyterian Manor through the summer before joining the staff full-time. A testament to her commitment, Brown worked as Director of Social Services at Newton Presbyterian Manor for 22 years before officially retiring this week.
Throughout the years, Brown's dedication never wavered, something executive director Marc Kessinger attested to at her retirement ceremony on Thursday. Kessinger called Brown the "moral compass" of Newton Presbyterian Manor and would not soon forget the numerous signs Brown put up throughout the years reminding everyone of the residents' rights.
"My primary role, I would say, was to really be an advocate for residents," Brown said, "trying to make their lives better, helping them face all kinds of issues, helping to make the last years of their life the best they can be and to continually look at their strengths."
Brown's to-do list was extensive. Even so, she still found time to help out elsewhere in the community, much of that directed toward her alma mater. Along with helping out the Bethel College Community Playschool, Brown has also served on the social work advisory board at Bethel, worked as a field instructor for junior and senior students and also partnered with the social work department to allow Bethel College students the opportunity to interview residents for social histories.
While she also helped out multiple local support groups, the source of Brown's greatest pride comes back to her work at Newton Presbyterian Manor and how her role has evolved over the years.
"One of the most exciting things for me over the years is to have seen the change in focus from a medical model of care to a person-centered care model, where the residents are in the driver’s seat," Brown said. "Social workers — with their distinct values — are certainly the catalyst, in my opinion, for this type of care. However, it’s great to be a part of a team that embraces that philosophy and which is supported by our corporate office as well."
Faith has also driven Brown's commitment to serving others, noting that as a Mennonite she sees that as an integral part of her life.
Service is something Brown recommends being open to, as sharing your gifts can be a rewarding experience, which has very much been the case for her.
"Working here has been probably the most satisfying, probably the most fulfilling experience of my life. It wasn't just a matter of serving others. It wasn't just a matter of giving to people, but it was so much of what I've learned from them myself," Brown said. "Our residents have so many gifts, talents and knowledge, and just to be a part of that...what can be more rewarding than that?"