‘I Just Like Helping People’

Chestnut Park CNA Delayed Retirement to Answer
Call to Care During Pandemic

Woman in library

Benchmark 25th anniversaryMaybe all you need to know about Lena Robinson is that she had planned to retire in January of 2021. At age 76, she had reached her 25th year working as a CNA at Chestnut Park at Cleveland Circle. Her children were grown and her husband, James, had long since retired. It was time.

However, as many healthcare professionals walked away from the field due to COVID-19, Robinson felt obligated to stay because of the pandemic.

“They needed me more than ever,” says Robinson.

It’s because of Robinson’s commitment to Chestnut Park’s residents that she was nominated by Chestnut Park and won McKnight’s Senior Living’s inaugural Women of Distinction Spirit Award in 2022. Robinson, who won the community’s 2020 Service Champion Award, is one of only six inspiring women in the entire country to win the McKnight’s prestigious honor.

There is a humbleness in Robinson that belies her remarkable strength and the limitless reservoir of kindness and empathy. She cares about other people. She always has. Her mother, Rolena, who died in 2003, was a missionary whose daily work demonstrated to her daughter there was value in doing for others.

“I used to go with her to take care of the sick and shut-ins,” recalls Robinson. “I learned to be kind to people. If they needed help, you helped them.”

Family in backyardRobinson would take those lessons and incorporate them into her life’s work. She would spend 30 years as a special education teacher at the Hamilton School in Cleveland Circle. It was a fulfilling endeavor, yet, she had more to give. When a co-worker said she was giving up a night shift working at a nearby residential care center, Robinson saw opportunity. So, in April of 1996, she began working the second shift at that center, which would later become Chestnut Park at Cleveland Circle.

Robinson retired a decade or so ago from teaching but continues to touch the lives of the residents at Chestnut Park.

“I just enjoy taking care of people – looking after people who need help,” she says. “It makes me feel good.”

Robinson is drawn to people. She and James raised four biological sons, along with three foster sons. The foster sons were from their neighborhood and close in age to their sons.

“They would come over and visit and ended up coming on our vacations,” she says. “They stayed with us through college. They took good care of me.”

As for those retirement plans? Well, for now, there is no such plan. Chestnut Park at Cleveland Circle offers a warm and comforting environment, and the opportunity to help people just like her mother helped people.

“I like working with the people I work with,” she says. “They’re like family. And I just like helping people.”

Over the years, people would tell Robinson that she didn’t need to work so hard, especially with James and seven boys around the house. But for Robinson, while physically demanding, her career as a CNA has never seemed like work. It has always been about the lessons she learned from her mother.

If someone needs help, you help them. Simple as that.

Benchmark Senior Living Gala

Robinson and Benchmark Chairman and CEO Tom Grape after he made her aware of the McKnight’s award during Benchmark’s annual award gala in March, 2022.

Chestnut Park at Cleveland Circle