Meet Bennett

For 9-year-old Bennett, developing a typical relationship with food has been a complicated journey. Bennett was born with two congenital birth defects which caused holes to form in his diaphragm and his abdominal wall. As a result, his abdominal organs developed both inside his chest cavity and outside his body.

Bennett underwent multiple operations before he was five months old to correct these concerns, and spent the first five months of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Since birth, he has relied on nutritional supplementation provided directly to his stomach through his abdomen to ensure he gains weight and continues growing.

“Our physicians believed Bennett would wean off his supplemental feeding by age 2 or 3,” said his mom, Cara. “However, Bennett developed a hiatal hernia, which caused significant reflux and vomiting.”

Bennett is learning about food, scientifically, in ChildServe‘s new behavioral health sciences facility donated by Variety – The Children’s Charity.
The Variety Behavioral Health Clinic at ChildServe is serving over 1,000 children like Bennett!

Bennett has partnered with ChildServe since 2017 through a variety of services. His family and ChildServe team looked for the right programs to meet his unique feeding and mental health needs – including creating treatment plans that had never been tried before.

In August 2022, Bennett began a new plan where he would meet weekly for feeding therapy with Occupational Therapist Jenae Murry, followed immediately by an appointment with Mental Health Therapist Abigail Nedved. The two therapists work together closely to help maximize Bennett’s progress.

“Combining mental health with feeding therapy is essential for kids like Bennett,” said Abigail. “So often it’s not just about the food. In Bennett’s case, it is his medical trauma that has created a lot fear around food. Even though he might not remember the trauma cognitively, his body still remembers feeling sick, which has led to his fear of vomiting. What I do is help break the avoidance/anxiety cycle. Being able to process the trauma and learn new ways of coping can be life changing for so many kids.”

“In feeding we are working on learning about foods through their scientific properties – taste, smell, sight, texture – to allow us to explore, compare, and reduce anxieties and fears related to new or unfamiliar foods,” said Jenae. “We also work to find ways to adapt food or meals to help make them more manageable or approachable.

“A typical mental health session with Bennett involves processing what was done in feeding therapy with Jenae,” said Abigail. “We talk about what was challenging, and Bennett rates his level of worry on a scale from 1-10. The purpose of rating his anxiety is to help Bennett see where he is at and see that his anxiety will lower over time. We process what coping skills were used, identify areas that were challenging, and discuss challenges and successes from the prior week.”

Since combining feeding therapy and mental health services eight months ago, at ChildServe, Bennett has reduced his supplemental nutritional intake.

When he started the program, Bennett was receiving most of his calories through supplementation. Now, he is just 350 daily calories away from weaning off supplementation entirely! 

After his feeding appointment with Jenae, where Bennett explores new foods and eating in a hands-on way, he moves down the hall to explore his feelings and mindset about food in ChildServe’s Variety Behavioral Health Clinic.

In mental health sessions, Bennett also focuses on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT helps challenge unhelpful thoughts. It also talks about how thoughts can influence our feelings and behavior.

In doing this, Bennett is learning that eating new foods does not always lead to vomiting. Bennett is a storyteller and loves to process his feelings through stories and play.

“ChildServe’s Behavioral Health program changes lives,” said Cara. “The therapists have the knowledge, training, and skills to develop customized therapy programs to meet each child’s needs. They excel because they collaborate with their partners within other ChildServe therapy disciplines and the families they serve. What we value the most about ChildServe is its trauma-informed care approach with every child and family. At each step of our journey at ChildServe, the professionals have empathetically listened to our concerns, validated them, and empowered us to be part of the solution. When one approach isn’t working, we pivot and find another together. Mental health therapy is constantly evolving, and thinking outside the box is critical to meeting the needs of children with challenges like Bennett’s.” 

“Bennett’s journey is just one example of the many types of individualized and trauma-informed intervention that become possible with the highly trained, multidisciplinary professionals at ChildServe,” said Kelly Betsworth, ChildServe Behavioral Health Manager. “We’re incredibly grateful for Variety’s generous support, which has enabled us to add beautiful new treatment space and continue growing to offer these life-changing services to children in Iowa!”

“Bennett has the most positive and contagious enthusiasm that he is able to bring to what could be a challenging situation,” said Jenae. “It has meant so much to me to be part of his journey and to help support and build his confidence related to foods. Bennett’s confidence and his ability to provide insight about mealtimes and foods has come so far. I am so proud of him!”

“It means the world to me that I get to help kids like Bennett achieve their goals,” said Abigail. “Seeing the look of pride and joy on a child’s face once they’ve achieved a goal is one of my favorite parts of this job. Kids have the power within them to do hard things and build confidence. I am just there to help nurture that, build their confidence and help them realize their potential.”

Bennett the Bubble Ball Star

Bennett’s fun personality lit up the stage at Bubble Ball. Accompanying ChildServe CEO Dr. Teri Wahlig, Bennett made his way down the runway to help welcome Bubble Ball attendees and share about his journey with ChildServe.


ChildServe improves the health and well-being of nearly 5,800 children each year through specialized clinical, home, and community-based programs and services. We serve children with developmental delays, disabilities, injuries, and other special healthcare needs.

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