It is a rare human that touches our soul. When my path crosses with these angels on earth there is something indescribable that happens. My conversation with Dena Betti was exactly that, one that had me in tears more than a few times. Yes, if you have ever wanted to hear me cry, this episode is for you. More than that was Dena’s message of love and resilience after losing her 14-year-old daughter, Jenna, in a tragic accident.
Dena took that pain and turned it into a nonprofit called Her Smile that funds programs to empower and inspire young people to thrive despite adversity.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation…
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Her Smile does?
Dena Betti: Her Smile helps families who have experienced the loss of a dependent child or the loss of a parent with dependent children. We did that primarily for the first five years. Just last year, with the pandemic and the severe fires, we thought we want to do more than what we’re doing. So we broadened our brushstroke so we could also help families going through really difficult circumstances. So not only death, which is the ultimate loss, and to lose a child is beyond measure, so we now are helping those who are in the throes of really challenging circumstances.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Her Smile?
Dena Betti: But what brought me to this work is, tomorrow will be seven years, when I got this horrific call from my husband. It was a Sunday and, and he was screaming on the phone, Jenna, it was Jenna. Jenna is my oldest daughter, and she was 14 at the time. And you know, we let her go out on a walk in our neighborhood. they took the like the short what would be the shortcut home. And that was along the railroad tracks.
What we know now is when they sat down on the railroad tracks, Jenna had put her phone down. When a train approached they got up and were able to safely get away from the train. But Jenna went back to grab her phone and she was hit and killed from the back. Her phone survived but she didn’t. What we think is that she probably thought the width of the train was the width of the train tracks, which it’s not, the train is wider.
A moment like that changes you in so many ways that change you. What I want to share is something that leads into why we started Her Smile. That is all the love and support that came from family, friends, strangers, people descended on our home. I remember the moment so clearly and I thought if I shut this door and I do not let these people in my home, they might not come back. I learned one of life’s great lessons, which was when you let people in they will love you and hold you up. They will give you all of the strength that you need to get through whatever it is.
I have three daughters and they all had the same third-grade teacher, Mrs. Travis. Something very magical happened that she did, she started a Memorial Fund for our family. She started that to help with the burial costs for Jenna and to feel like she could do something for our family. So that raised a lot of money and it helped us put Jenna to rest. We had money left over and I thought you know I don’t want to keep this money. This money needs to go back out to help other people and that is where Her Smile was born. It was born in that spirit.
Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?
Dena Betti: Gosh, so those moments come in little moments for me. They come when people reach out to me, and ask how do I help my friend who just lost their son or their daughter? Or what can I say to them? Those are moments that make me feel like I can be of service. Even though it’s much smaller than I originally wanted, it’s as impactful. Those are the moments so they’re not grandiose. They are very humble, but they mean everything to me
Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?
Dena Betti: When Jenna passed away, that was big about the control in my entire life. I’ve just learned that there’s so much fear built into that statement. We want to control because we want to feel safe and secure. And then when you realize when something happens, like, what I experienced, or other hardships, maybe we don’t have as much control as we thought we did?
My biggest life lesson is divine time. That’s been my biggest challenge is being able to see it in my mind. feeling like I want it now and having the grace and patience to wait. Having the faith. You know, I’ve asked myself many times, and I prayed to my higher power. And I said,” Is this really what I should be doing?” And the answer has so far come back. Yes. And to have the patience to let divine timing play out has been my biggest life lesson.
Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?
Dena Betti: I see life much deeper. Much deeper. I’ve always been a much deeper thinker and tend to lean on wisdom a lot. I didn’t really feel like I have anything to prove anymore. Like I feel like I’ve done the inside work. You know, I’ve definitely got to the top of the mountain when it comes to my internal resilience. So, for me, that’s how much I’ve changed or to the degree, I’ve changed is I’m at peace. And that, isn’t that the ultimate goal? Yeah, I think the ultimate goal is to know that you’ve done your best. You’ve carried that bucket You’ve worked your hardest. And you’re at peace with what you’re doing and what you’re putting out into the world and what you’re giving to everybody.
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