Spirit of a Champion

The prayer, encouragement, and financial support of members of the CWLC like you allow us to sponsor and support activities and events that have a profound impact here on campus and throughout the community.  Late last spring, WLC student Nicole Stahmann approached the board of the Christian Women's Leadership Circle asking for our help in making an idea a reality. You helped make this possible. Thank you!!

Nicole's article below is a recap of the event and appeared in the campus newspaper - the SWORD. 

"Let me win, but if I can't win, let me brave the attempt!”

On March 25, in Wisconsin Lutheran College’s Schwan Concert Hall, over 60 voices chanted this together with guest speaker Cindy Bentley.  The event began with a social event at 6:15 p.m., during which students were extended the opportunity to enjoy light snacks and refreshments while networking with key nonprofit organizations in the area.  Groups in attendance included Life Navigators, Best Buddies, the Autism Treatment Center, and Integrated Development Services.

During the transition into the Schwan for Cindy’s speech, two performances by members of Wisconsin Lutheran College’s guitar club, followed by two performances by freshman Wisconsin Lutheran College students Emily Perron and Caleb Hintz kicked off the official event.  After a brief introduction by Life Navigators, a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee dedicated to serving individuals with special needs, Cindy Bentley took the stage.  A bubbly individual with a remarkable story, Cindy provided the cornerstone to the Spread the Word to End the Word Committee’s R Word Campaign Week of advocacy and action.

Cindy Bentley was born on October 18, 1957 with fetal alcohol syndrome, an intellectual disability caused by alcohol exposure in the womb.  Her mother was addicted to alcohol, cocaine, and heroin.  Cindy states, “I was taken right out of my mother’s arms, and I was put in the foster care system.”  Her mother went to prison.  Not expected to live longer than 24 hours, Cindy surprised everyone by surviving, overcoming another near-death experience at age two when a foster parent set her shirt on fire.  She suffered third degree burns.  Eventually, she was sent to a state institution, where she remained for a number of years before returning to Milwaukee at age 26.

“I was teased a lot,” she remembers.  She explains how she was so angry, she could have very well have ended up in a prison system like her mother.  What changed her life?  Special Olympics, she credits, and her faith.  “I decided to start going to my church,” she states. Now, she is very excited about her faith, and eager to share it.

“I was angry, I was young,” Cindy says.  Since her first involvement in Special Olympics, Cindy has traveled around the world as an advocate therein, has been to the White House twice, and has gifted one of her Special Olympics gold medals to President Bush following 9/11.  With regards to Life Navigators, Cindy is also very grateful.

“It was ARC at the time,” Cindy states.  “I didn’t even know how to dress myself, so they taught me how to dress, how to respect people, and how to act.”

“I remember the psychologists at the center said I never would amount to anything, that I would have to live in a group home, and that I would have to work in a shelter workshop,” Cindy admits.  Now, Cindy Bentley has lived in her own apartment for 29 years, currently sharing the living space with two four-legged feline friends, and has served as the director of People First Wisconsin for two years.

“I’m happy,” she states.  “I am in charge of what I want to do with my life.  I have caregivers, but they let me decide what I want to do […] I make the decisions for what I’m doing in my life every day.”

“I always tell the kids [I speak to…] it’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s in your heart.”  With regards to education, Cindy advocates, “I think the best thing is integration; integration in the classroom.”

Turning to the R Word campaign, Cindy states, “It [the R word] is a swearword.  It is not to be used, and if you want respect, you need to give respect.  I feel this way: I feel that every person with an intellectual disability is God’s children [sic].  We are all God’s children, and we should all be respected […] I’ve gone to a lot of schools, and changed a lot of people’s attitudes, but I can’t do it by myself.

The night was a call to action for all attendees, reminding them of the importance of advocacy for individuals with special needs.  Following the event, Cindy held a book signing and took pictures with representatives from the football team and the Spread the Word Committee.  Her story truly does demonstrate the spirit of a champion, a clear demonstration of one individual’s ability to catalyze change.  The Spread the Word Committee would like to offer a special thanks here for the Christian Women’s Leadership Circle’s generous donation of $750 for an honorarium to Cindy.

For a link to portions of the event, please visit: https://youtu.be/zIBaayUTWHA.