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Thursday conference awards: Families, youth

Today’s conference luncheon featured the most moving awards presented at the conference each year, those of families and youth. We were fortunate to have Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Eric Fenner of Casey Family Programs on hand to present.

2016 Families of the Year

Alice Williams & Family, Franklin County (Kinship)

Williams

This Family of the Year awardee also deserves a nod for Rising Up and Moving On. Before she became a kinship caregiver, Alice Williams spent much of her childhood in and out of custody at Franklin County Children Services before emancipating with two children. As the proud mother of 15-year-old Devon and 11-year-old Davon’ya, Alice has now opened her home to two relatives. First, she took legal custody of her 9-year-old nephew Kotis, ensuring that his needs as a young person with autism and ADD are met. Then she intervened on behalf of 5-year-old niece Mariah, literally saving her life.

As a youth in foster care, Alice turned her life around in the face of tremendous adversity. Now this dynamic, strong and caring mother is one of the agency’s most respected kin care providers. She recently moved her family into her first home. She looks out for the needs of her children, advocating for medical and other services. Having seen the child protection system from a variety of perspectives, Alice says, “I want people to know that children services is a tool that is there to help you make positive changes that your family may not be able to help you accomplish alone.”

All four children are doing well in school and involved in activities that keep them healthy and active. She reminds them that her home is and always will be a safe place. In the face of many challenges, particularly in the last year, Alice remains resilient – the rock that her children can cling to. PCSAO is pleased to present the 2016 Family of the Year award to Alice Williams and her children.

Beth Young & Family, Seneca County (Birth)

The heroin epidemic has separated many families across Ohio, but sometimes, through perseverance and love, a family finds its way back together. Beth Young battled addiction throughout her teen years and was involved with children services off and on. When Beth’s second daughter tested positive at birth, little Aria went into foster care and Beth began a long, arduous journey toward recovery. Determined to get her daughter back, Beth got a job at a local factory and enrolled in parenting classes. Though resistant to enter treatment at first, she finally realized she would not be able to shake the addiction without professional help. Digging deep to better herself, Beth received glowing reports from her counselor, helped others in the group, and allowed herself to be featured in a local media series on the opioid crisis.

Visits with her daughter led to overnights and finally reunification, but Beth maintains a relationship with Aria’s foster parents and considers them part of her own extended family. Now together with both of her girls – 10-year-old Jordyn and 2-year-old Aria – Beth has become a role model not just for them but for the entire community. She makes presentations on the opiate epidemic, participates in support groups, and plans to become a recovery coach to assist others in their journey to sobriety. PCSAO is pleased to present the 2016 Family of the Year award to Beth Young and her children.

Yolanda & Gerard Bergos & Family, Franklin County (Birth)

Bergos

Few parents have demonstrated more determination to reunify with their children than Yolanda and Gerard Bergos. Through family tragedy, addiction, unemployment, and other challenges, this couple has maintained a steadfast commitment to working through their case plan.

Seeing their four children placed apart due to their addiction, either with family or in foster care, Yolanda and Gerard dedicated themselves to putting their family back together. They entered treatment and counseling. Gerard found another job and now works 50-60 hours a week. Yolanda communicated regularly with their caseworker and identified a parent mentor to help her prepare for reunification. They didn’t miss a single visit with their children, despite transportation challenges. Then, 11 months later, the Bergoses were reunited with all four children: 11-year-old Autumn, 7-year-old Destiny, 2-year-old Antonio, and 1-year-old Sunday. The relationships they developed with kin and foster care providers continue, and now the family has connections to teachers and others in the community who are cheering them on and helping out with the kids.

Before their involvement with children services, Yolanda says she was isolated and stuck in a downward spiral. Since she was reunified with her children in February, Yolanda has written their caseworker a card thanking her for saving their lives. But if you ask the caseworker, it is the commitment and perseverance of the Bergos family that made it all happen. PCSAO is pleased to present the 2016 Family of the Year award to Yolanda and Gerard Bergos and their children.

Jeffrey & Julie Westcott & Family, Huron County (Foster/Adoptive)

Westcott

Transplants from Illinois, Jeff and Julie Westcott brought to Ohio with them a selfless dedication to serving as foster caregivers. They are birth parents to three children and adoptive parents to three children, all still at home, yet they continue to open their home to foster children and open their hearts to the parents seeking to reunify with them.

When the Westcotts learned that a 17-year-old foster youth had unexpectedly lost her daughter shortly after giving birth, they raised $2,500 for the baby’s funeral expenses. They adopt families in need at Christmas and help foster youth graduating from high school. They have shared their expertise at pre-service training for other prospective foster caregivers. Aware of birth parents’ reservations and stereotypes about foster parents, the Westcotts are very clear about the role foster parents play with respect to birth families. In Julie’s own words: “The thing that I didn’t realize early on . . . is that if I want to love children who have been hurt by their parents, I don’t need to restrict myself to only caring for the children. I also love the ‘grown up’ . . . who was hurt in his childhood and has struggled his whole life with the experiences he’s gone through. Don’t stop your loving with just the kids in your home. Love the ‘big kids’ also, the parents. The reality is my parenting isn’t always great either, because I have many hurts and insecurities from my childhood as well. These parents, the ‘big kids,’ need someone to love them too.”

These inspirational parents are integral to the agency and the community. PCSAO is pleased to present the 2016 Family of the Year award to Jeffrey and Julie Westcott and their family.

2016 Rising Up and Moving On Awards

Zion, 19, Stark County

Zion

After Zion was born with a significant disability, his biological family was unable to provide for his special health needs. He entered agency custody in early infancy and was placed in 13 foster homes. One adoption disruption followed by another adoption that failed to finalize might have ended another youth’s interest in ever going through the process again. But the right family finally found Zion, and he was adopted in February shortly after his 18th birthday.

Zion is an amazing young man who has never allowed his physical disability to slow him down. An inspiration to his peers, he has excelled at everything he set his mind to. During his high school years, Zion has been active in football, band, and choir. He plays the trumpet, piano, guitar, and is the lead drummer at his church. You may be surprised to learn that Zion was even the captain of his high school wrestling team, winning many awards and holding aspirations of competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team. Just a few months ago, Zion took up a new sport, seated shot put and seated chair racing, and he now holds the state title in the 100- and 400-meter race, and is a bronze medalist in the seated shot put and 800-meter race. Zion will be attending Kent State in the fall and then on to Ashland University with plans to be an architect.

Not only is Zion an amazing athlete, but he is a charismatic, loving, and kind person. Zion has a smile that lights up a room and a “can-do” attitude that guarantees his success in all he attempts. PCSAO is pleased to present Zion with the 2016 Rising Up and Moving On award.

Breanna, 19, Montgomery County

Breanna

Breanna entered foster care at age 16 following placement with multiple relatives. She struggled at school and then became a teen mother. Once she went into foster care, Breanna began to attend school regularly, earning above-average grades, engaging in therapy, and learning to control her behaviors. As part of her plan to emancipate, Breanna obtained her own housing, became a voracious saver, purchased a vehicle, and gained employment at a nursing home.

As her progress in school improved, Breanna kicked it up a notch by attending the Clark Career Technology Center for nurse’s assistant. She graduated with honors and has her State Tested Nurse Assistant license.

Breanna has bonded with her son, Noah, and is no longer reluctant to follow suggestions offered by her foster parents in caring for her son. Breanna is devoted to meeting her and her son’s needs, and she is determined to end the foster care cycle. PCSAO is pleased to present Breanna with the 2016 Rising Up and Moving On award.

Jacquir, 18, Stark County

Jack and his two brothers were removed from their family when Jack was younger than three. Jack’s two brothers were adopted, and Jack has been living with his aunt for most of the past eight years. Jack, who has been resistant to the idea of adoption, initially struggled with some difficult behaviors due to the instability around him, but engaged in counseling and made impressive changes in his life.

Jack has always put school first. He graduated not just with a high school diploma but also with an associate’s degree in arts and another one in science! He attended early college while completing his high school requirements, all the while excelling at both. Jack refuses to allow anything, even illness, to come between him and his school work.

Jack enjoys fishing and even taught himself to play the piano. Jack served as the vice-president of the Security Council of the Ohio Model United Nations and has participated in Teen Court, Ohio State Upward Bound, and CAMP Apprenticeship Mentoring Program. He received numerous awards over the years for his achievements, including technology awards, early college achievement awards, and many, many others. Jack participated in a paid internship last summer and again this past summer. He earned a full ride scholarship to The Ohio State University and plans to study engineering and perhaps law. Anyone who knows Jack would agree that he would make an excellent attorney!
Jack is a busy, capable, and accomplished young man who has bright dreams and is on his way to fulfilling them. PCSAO is pleased to present Jack with the 2016 Rising Up and Moving On award.

Jadah, 19, Lucas County

Jadah

Jadah came into foster care at age 13. Even at that young age, Jadah told her social worker that she preferred to remain in care so that she could stay in one place and go to school. Jadah maintained the honor roll in high school even after her siblings were adopted. Then she suffered a stroke and endured the passing of one of her brothers.

Despite these hardships, Jadah maintained employment and played for the basketball, track and tennis teams. She earned a letter from playing basketball and received a varsity award. She attended college courses, advanced placement classes, joined Upward Bound, belonged to a boxing gym, and served as a peer tutor. On top of all that, Jadah stepped up as a leader within the foster care system.

This year she graduated Scott High School with a total of $80,000 in scholarships. She was accepted by many universities, including Howard. Jadah will attend college at the University of Akron this fall and aspires one day to be a doctor. PCSAO is pleased to present Jadah with the 2016 Rising Up and Moving On award.