SOLDIERING ON: Like many women in our community, Suzette Benz knows how to make it work when she has to. Despite the curveballs life has thrown her, she is still getting joy and hugs out of every day.
SOLDIERING ON: Like many women in our community, Suzette Benz knows how to make it work when she has to. Despite the curveballs life has thrown her, she is still getting joy and hugs out of every day. Marian Faa

LEAVE NO WOMAN BEHIND: The mum whose heart knows no limits

AS A woman who has taken the three daughters of her deceased best friend under her own wing, while caring for children of her own, the theme of this year's International Women's Day rang especially true for Warwick single mother Suzette Benz.

"Leave no woman behind" was the topic women across the globe reflected on yesterday, but it's a motto Ms Benz has lived by her whole life.

Running a dance school, moving house, working full time, caring for five children as a single mother, and all the while grieving the loss of her best friend, many are in awe of how Ms Benz holds it all together.

But like other resilient women throughout our country community, Ms Benz says sometimes you just have to make it work.

"There are plenty of times where you just want to fall on the floor in a heap and cry, but I think women know that people and kids rely on them and they soldier on."

But Ms Benz wouldn't be the person she is today without the central role model in her life.

 

CROWDING FOR COMFORT: Suzette's son Jack will tell you he feels a little outnumbered with five girls in the house, but the bond between these women is unbreakable.
CROWDING FOR COMFORT: Suzette's son Jack will tell you he feels a little outnumbered with five girls in the house, but the bond between these women is unbreakable. Marian Faa

A heart that big is something Ms Benz could only have inherited from her mother, Lorraine Goldspink.

From a young age, she was surrounded by an endless stream of kids her family took in as the operators of the EJ Portley Pool in Warwick.

"My mother would always have 50 different kids over, all having a pool party," Ms Benz recalls.

Just like Lorraine, there's always room for kids in Ms Benz' heart.

"If there is a child in need that's all that matters," she said.

"No one deserves to feel unloved and unwanted."

But her generosity really proved it had no limit when a tragic turn of events befell her best friend late last year.

 

BANDING TOGETHER: On the day of Stacey's funeral, the two families stuck together as one.
BANDING TOGETHER: On the day of Stacey's funeral, the two families stuck together as one. Suzette Benz

In October 2017, one of Ms Benz' closest companions, Stacey Rodgers, was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive type of stomach cancer that took her life three months later.

As the single mother of three teenage daughters and two sons, the illness could not have been harder on Ms Rodgers.

But in the final stages of her life, the two families became so close they even merged under one roof, and Ms Benz's household doubled in size as she vowed to take care of Ms Rodgers's children when she passed away.

Two months after her friend's funeral, Ms Benz, Breanna, Jack, Emily, Natalie and Angela all are finding their footing in a new house and discovering solidarity in each other's companionship.

"Moving into a bigger house to accommodate us all has been a new beginning and a fresh start for us to all work as one," Ms Benz said.

And if there's anyone who knows how to make a house a home, it's Ms Benz.

"I remember Ange walked into our house on the first day and went 'oh my god look at all the food'... she was just rapt that the place was just home, we made it home straight away," she said.

Keeping the girls in town was vital.

"You go through a loss of losing your mother and to lose your town and your friends would just be too much to handle," Ms Benz said.

"They didn't want to leave town. They loved Warwick, this was home to them.

"They have their jobs and they have their netball and their friends.

"That was one thing Stacey always said... she had lived in so many different towns and had only been in Warwick for five years but this was home, she said this place felt right and the girls felt the same."

Sport has been a passion that in helping the whole family cope through this difficult part of their lives.

"The girls are really getting back into their sport and their mother would have loved to see how well they are doing," Ms Benz said.

"The whole netball crowd all rallied behind the kids... they have been very supportive."

 

JOY OF DANCE: Despite her busy life, Suzette Benz finds the time to run Move Dance School in Warwick, where kids of all ages can stay active and share in the fun of joyful movement.
JOY OF DANCE: Despite her busy life, Suzette Benz finds the time to run Move Dance School in Warwick, where kids of all ages can stay active and share in the fun of joyful movement. Marian Faa

Alongside running a family and working full time, Ms Benz also manages to head a fun-based, not-for-profit dance school.

She started Move School of Dance five years ago and still loves her afternoons teaching young children to jump for enjoyment and build confidence in their own skin.

"I love seeing the kids come in and they have their little outfits... it's cute and it's rewarding," she said.

"At the end of the day you know they are out enjoying themselves, not sitting in front of electronics."

As the guardian of four teenage girls, Ms Benz is all too familiar with the challenges social media presents to the younger generation.

"It is really hard on young girls these days," she said.

"My daughter was bullied a lot in school at one point, and that can lead into depression and anxiety and not wanting to go to school."

Ms Benz said the antidote to the pressures of society was guidance, acceptance and a lot of cuddles.

Luckily there's no shortage of the latter in Ms Benz' life, one of the upsides of being a single parent.

"It is hard not to have that person to turn to for help and vent but at the end of the day I get the extra love and support from the kids... so it sort of mellows itself out."

As people across the world have reflected on the resilience and solidarity of women, Ms Benz says she is all for equality but thinks women still have something different about them.

"We are kind-hearted and we are soft," she said.

"Everyone knows when you stub your toe you go to Mum for a hug."



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