Wenda Dinatale is a soldier in God’s army.
She’s not a corporal or a private. She’s more like a sergeant or a lieutenant.
She makes many of her own decisions. And while she does have a general she must answer to, she only takes orders from the Supreme Commander.
Dinatale relishes hand-to-hand combat, she enjoys being on the front lines. That’s where she can do the most good.
Her weapons are wisdom, compassion, and spirituality; the enemies are hunger, poverty, and homelessness. The war is real and Dinatale is well-armed, but ultimately what she’s fighting for is souls.
“I’ve told Lily (Morales), Troy (Williams), and Bryan (Smith), ‘You’re not my boss. You’re my executive director. I answer to Jesus,’” said Dinatale.
“No! Not for a million dollars (would she ever want to be an executive director),” continued Dinatale. “That would remove me from the people I’ve been called to serve. I can’t do what I do without an executive director. But I don’t think an executive director can do what they do without me. This is a family unit we’ve got going on here. We don’t operate in black-and-white rules or black-and-white roles.”
Dinatale’s current official title at Lebanon County Christian Ministries (LCCM) is Director of Programs and Services. She has worn and continues to wear many hats for one of Lebanon County’s most critical and essential nonprofits.
As for her heart? Well, she wears that on her sleeve.
Dinatale is the heart, soul, and backbone of LCCM, which is located at 250 South Seventh St. in the city. That makes the 60 year old Swatara Twp. resident one of the top social workers in Lebanon County.
“It’s kind of like I’m just the mom,” said Dinatale. “You make sure everyone’s on task and doing it with the right attitude. You’re helping them with personal problems, encouraging everyone, and reminding them who they serve. I just love the people I serve. I’ve always said, if I ever lose my compassion, it’s time to leave.”
“It’s kind of like, ‘What do you want out of your mother?’” said Smith, LCCM’s third executive director under whom Dinatale has toiled. “When you’re a young child, you want comfort and knowledge. Then, she’s going to show you that she knows what she’s talking about. She’s going to give you tough love when you need it. She’s touching more than just the lives of the people who come to LCCM.”
Dinatale has her hands in every emergency service that LCCM provides, from the free noon meal program to the Lebanon County food bank, from the Lebanon County clothing bank to the government surplus food program, from the emergency shelter to the utility assistance program. She’s part counselor, part chef, part administrator, and part mentor.
While Dinatale’s role at LCCM changes daily, she has served the ministry in the official capacities as Client Service Manager and Noon Meal Coordinator in the past. In some ways, LCCM has changed her title to match Dinatale’s unique talents and skill set.
“I’m LCCM 24/7,” said Dinatale, who attended Tulpehocken High School. “It’s my assignment. It’s what I’m purposed to do. Is it easy? No. I operate my family the same way. I have an open-door policy at my house. The clients, the staff, it’s all family. If they need to be snapped in, I’m willing to do it.”
“What makes us unique is that we connect with people and their most basic needs,” Dinatale added. “We share a part of life with them. We celebrate with them when they overcome obstacles. LCCM is relational. We build relationships. The success stories are part of LCCM’s legacy. It’s not about the building. It’s about the people.”
“I think the big take is that she’s a grassroots individual,” said Smith of Dinatale. “She doesn’t want to sit in her office. She wants to be where things are getting done. If you expect to show up and see her in her office, you’re probably going to miss her.”
Dinatale’s empathy is rooted in life experiences. She cares deeply because she has endured many of the same things that LCCM’s clients are currently going through.
Dinatale first came to LCCM in 2000, as a client.
“At that time, I was still what I consider a ‘baby Christian,’ but I knew I needed to work in a Christian atmosphere,” said Dinatale. “I applied for jobs at many faith-based organizations, but nothing worked out. There was no food in the house and we were struggling. I had never used a food bank in my life. It was very humbling.”
“I was paging through the phone book and there was LCCM’s number,” Dinatale continued. “When I called they said, ‘Get in here as soon as possible.’ During the interview for food services, I mentioned I was going to HACC and I had one class under my belt. As we were talking, Lily (then Executive Director, Morales) said, ‘I just happen to have a position open.’ Afterward, Lily told me, ‘I knew you were the one. I knew you had to be here.’ I started as the noon meal coordinator part-time, and, in three months, I went full-time.”
Over the past 21 years, LCCM has evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of the Lebanon community. And as LCCM has grown, so has Dinatale.
“My level of gratitude for being able to serve people who walked the same path I did has grown,” said Dinatale. “That appreciation has grown because I’ve been able to share it with the rest of the staff. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve. I’m more confident. My faith has grown immensely. You have to have broad shoulders and thick skin to do this job.”
Everyone’s gone through something. We have to help each other along the way.
“Since I started here, we moved into a new building, and it’s allowed for the expansion of existing services and the growth to incorporate new services,” Dinatale added. “It’s allowed us to expand what we can make available. But what’s been really cool over the last couple of years is the increased collaborations with other agencies. Everyone used to be stand-alone, now we’re collaborating. The need has become the focus. We’re looking at the greater good.”
Due to the size of her heart, Dinatale walks a fine line every day, the line between caring and becoming emotionally involved with the people she serves. To Dinatale, everyone is equal and everybody matters.
When asked about the sheer number of people she’s helped, Dinatale said, “I try not to think about that. That makes Wenda soft. When I think of that, it’s so humbling. I love people because they’re them, not because of what they can do for me. Nobody comes through LCCM’s door haphazardly – not clients, not employees, not supporters. There’s a purpose for it all.”
“I’m relatable and I care,” continued Dinatale. “I’m going to ask them (clients) about themselves and their lives. I see them. I hear them. But most of all, I care about them. It’s about the personal connection. It’s relational. It all goes back to that. But I also think God has given me a gift of discernment.”
“I’m still a baby in my role, but I’ve leaned heavily on her for history and institutional knowledge,” said Smith. “She’s steadfast in what she’s there to do. She brings such a unique perspective to the position. She completely believes in her servant role. She believes her purpose on earth is to be used. She’s a special person to many people.”
Dinatale exudes the energy of a person half her age. But, make no mistake about the long-term emotional and mental toll that her intense compassion for others can take on one’s being.
“At this time of my life, I’m looking toward retirement in the next six or seven years,” said Dinatale. “I’d love to make sure LCCM is taken care of. But I will never be done serving, whether it’s at LCCM or in my personal life. I’m 60 years old, and my mission isn’t done yet. There will just be another assignment, wherever I go. The hardest part for me was to learn to delegate. Now, I have to go into more of a teacher or a mentor role.”
“You might be a victim, but you’ll learn to survive, and victory will come to the overcomer,” concluded Dinatale. “I believe we all have to get outside of ourselves. I think it’s important to recognize the similarities, but downplay the differences – or embrace the differences. I truly wish each person who I’ve come in contact with would reach their full potential.”
Certainly, the ability to make every life you touch a little better is a special gift.
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