Julie Tomasi on Child Abuse Prevention Month
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month
Written by Julie Tomasi
National Child Abuse Prevention Month recognizes the importance of communities working together to help families thrive and prevent child maltreatment. There are formal and informal ways that child abuse and/or maltreatment can be prevented.
As mandated reporters we are very aware of the formal system that utilizes the State Central Registry (SCR) when you suspect abuse and/or maltreatment. We are fortunate to have very impactful New Directions Youth and Family Services, Inc. preventive services programs that many of our surrounding counties utilize that assist families. Another impactful program is our FAR program, Family Assessment Response, an alternative approach for handling calls made to the SCR has a positive impact on families.
During this unprecedented time of living through a pandemic, COVID-19 has had us re-think how we function individually and collectively for the health and safety of all of us. Taking a moment to reflect about child abuse prevention is much the same, we need to re-think it. It is a BIG and heavy topic and may leave us many times wondering how “I” will make a difference.
What can I do?
We make a difference when… we are in the store and there is a baby that is crying and a caregiver who is desperately trying to calm their child, who it seems you can hear from miles away, and you share a smile that gives a sense of being in those shoes in the past or a kind word and perhaps acknowledgement of how patient they are. IT makes a difference. YOU make a difference.
We can make a difference when…we are at a store and we listen to the cashier who is talking about long hours and challenging precautions they need to manage throughout their day. IT makes a difference. YOU make a difference.
We can make a difference when… we pass a co-worker in the hall, at the mailboxes or at the copy machine and when we say “hello, how are you” we take a moment and listen and spend time together not just hurrying past each other. IT makes a difference. YOU make a difference.
We can make a difference when… we see a child and we look at them; we talk to them to see how they are doing especially since COVID and their schooling and lives has been changed around. We listen and try to understand the changes that have occurred and the challenges they are facing. IT makes a difference. YOU make a difference.
We can make a difference when… we send a text to a co-worker, a friend, neighbor, or family member and just tell them “hello, I am thinking about you today”. IT makes a difference. YOU make a difference.
We can make a difference when…we see our neighbor and we say hello and we really listen when we ask how they are and if they need anything. We can offer to pick something up at the store and would be more than willing to assist them. IT makes a difference. YOU make a difference.
We can make a difference when…. we support our teachers who are with our youth and who have the chance to build relationships with them during the school year. When we encourage them to see the best in the students and to find ways to overcome the challenges. This is especially important while we are all enduring and being impacted by the pandemic. IT makes a difference. YOU make a difference.
We can make a difference when…. we listen to a grandparent who talks about seeing their grandchildren and perhaps how their health is challenged, and the grandchild have so much energy and spunk and how do they keep up. Or the grandparent who is unable to see their grandchildren and their sadness in this situation. We listen to their story. IT makes a difference. YOU make a difference.
During this time of COVID, we may not see our smiles on our faces, but see our faces with masks on and our “eyes smiling”. We may need to have conversations at a physically safe distance; however, we need to have them. We as professionals and mandated reporters are equally challenged by the changes of our world. We can share in the solutions; we can share in the ability to get through these times together.
We need to realize that in each interaction, every smile, every hello and asking, “how are you?”, and really taking the time to listen makes a difference. Each of those people you took a moment for are a child, a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a neighbor, and your moment of kindness will have a positive impact on them and their day and in turn truly fosters good for all!
We have the ability to provide that moment of truly listening and being kind, which makes the difference of between a moment of hope instead of hopelessness, a moment of realizing that I am not alone and part of something and a moment that helps us to keep moving ahead and not feel idle or stuck. All these moments can create an atmosphere of positive relationships and communities and builds a culture that prevents child abuse and puts a priority on caring about each other.
It makes a difference. YOU make a difference. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of the youth and families we have the privilege to serve and those who have the privilege to cross paths with you. IT makes a difference. YOU make a difference!
Julie A. Tomasi, LCSW-R, ACSW, is Chief Operations Officer Child Welfare Programs at New Directions Youth and Family Services, Inc.
March Staff Spotlights – Celebrating Social Work Month!
Maria Fabrizio – Licensed Behavioral Health Practitioner, Wyndham Lawn Residential
Maria began working for New Directions in 2013 when she joined the Wyndham Lawn team as a full-time Youth Counselor. Prior to this, she had obtained a bachelor’s degree with a dual major in Criminal Justice and Communications, from Canisius College. During her first few years at New Directions, Maria pursued her Master’s in Social Work from SUNY University at Buffalo.
After receiving her degree, Maria became the Residential Social Worker at Grigg Cottage. At that time, there was a Residential Social Worker in each building who was responsible for both the case management and clinical counseling. In 2019, the model shifted, bringing in case manager and Maria assumed the responsibility of clinical counseling for both residential cottages, as a Licensed Behavioral Health Practitioner.
In any of her roles Maria’s goal is to empower youth and families to be motivated and solution-focused. In doing so, she hopes clients gain insight about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with each other and within themselves and then to translate that insight into positive habits everyday.
Maria has been fortunate to have supervisors who are supportive of her strong sense of advocacy and helped her channel it effectively. She has also been fortunate to work alongside goal-oriented colleagues who have a strong sense of teamwork and support of each other. Maria is tenacious, knowledgeable, and compassionate. In her free time, Maria enjoys seeing family, reading and cooking.
Sue Moran – Clinical Social Worker, Randolph Residential
Sue began working for New Directions on the Randolph Campus in 2002. At that time, social workers held full case responsibilities. Now, there is a team approach that includes a clinician, a case manager, a permanency worker, and a court liaison.
Sue earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from SUNY at Buffalo. Sue is compassionate, organized and self-directed. She appreciates the team collaboration and peer feedback.
Through her work with each child and their family, Sue hopes that she can help their experience within the system to be a positive one at such a vulnerable point in their lives.
Sue is a very active person and in her free time she enjoys golf and yoga as well as spending time with family and friends. Sue also writes adoption home studies for the private sector.
This March, we would also like to highlight Sue Moran and Maria Fabrizio, two of our social workers, for all the great things they have done for the agency and our families!
Thank you both for fostering good!
Celebrating Women’s History Month – Mrs. Henrietta Grigg Lewis
In celebration of Women’s History Month and the 150th anniversary of the Lockport Ladies Relief Society (founders of Wyndham Lawn) we are excited to share the impact of two women, Mrs. Henrietta Grigg Lewis and Mrs. Ella Daniels Hodge.
Mrs. Henrietta Grigg Lewis was born in 1906 in Lockport, NY and attended the prestigious Ogontz School for Young Ladies in Pennsylvania. Shortly before her high school graduation, Mrs. Lewis lost her mother. She spent some time traveling with her father, and then married her husband, a widower, Curt, in 1936, she became a step-mother to his only son.
At the age of 28, Mrs. Lewis joined her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Mrs. Clara Bowlen Lewis on the Wyndham Lawn Home for Children Board of Directresses after the resignation of a member on June 6, 1934. It was one of the first boards Mrs. Lewis joined and she remained a director until her retirement in 1982 when she moved onto the Wyndham Associate Board. In addition to Wyndham Lawn, Mrs. Lewis was a great supporter of the Presbyterian Home, her church, the YWCA, and the Kenan Center. She enjoyed golf, but often told her fellow golfers that she played for enjoyment and not to win. Being an avid gardener, Mrs. Lewis spent her later years at the Presbyterian Home, walking around the facilities caring for the flowers and plants. More than anything, Mrs. Lewis loved music and theatre, having played many lead roles in her school’s dramatic club plays. It is perhaps, this love that led to her donate funds to establish a youth choir at her church, purchase a piano for the Lockport Country Club, and regularly donate performance tickets to the Junior League’s plays to the youth at Wyndham Lawn.
Always active in the community, humble and modest by nature, Mrs. Lewis made incredible contributions, both financially and with her time, and always provided help when she saw a need. She gave anonymously and generously as she believed her inherited money should benefit the community in which it had been made. Her lifelong commitment to the Lockport Community was further evidenced when she gifted her fortune to the local Foundation that carries her name and honors her philanthropic mission, so that her gifting would continue making an impact for many years to come.
Our organization would not be what it is today if it were not for the leadership, dedication, and support we received from Mrs. Lewis during her lifetime, and continue to receive from her legacy funds.
Be sure to check back later this month for the spotlight on Mrs. Ella Daniels Hodge and the founders of the Lockport Ladies Relief Society!
February Staff Spotlights
Brandi Robinson – Program Coordinator- Chautauqua County Agency Operated Boarding Home (CCAOBH)
Brandi has worked for New Directions since 2000. She is the head of our extremely dedicated AOBH team in Falconer. As program coordinator she oversees the care of kids age 15 to 21 who live in the group home.
Brandi was initially hired as a youth counselor at Zafron Home for Pregnant and Parenting Teens, where she assisted young mothers. Eventually, she moved into the role of assistant supervisor of Zafron. In 2018, she transferred over to the Chautauqua County Agency Operated Boarding Home to become the coordinator. Brandi’s work involves interviewing and admitting youth for the Chautauqua House program, enrolling them in the required education and the other programs available to them, conducting individual meetings with youth, and coordinating visits with families. Brandi also oversees the staff at CCAOBH. She says that they are an amazing team that works diligently to better the life of every youth they serve.
Brandi is loyal, honest and dependable. These attributes make her a great leader and help her to provide the most nurturing environment possible for the kids at CCAOBH. She is the proud mother of a 16-year-old and a 6-year-old and loves spending time with them and the rest of her family. She loves coupon hunting! Brandi loves a good deal and is known to be the best person at New Directions to ask for a coupon or discount code. Before working with New Directions, Brandi cultivated her love of working with kids and families working at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL!
This February, we honor Brandi for her dedication to supporting children, families and staff!
Thank you for fostering good, Brandi!
Laurie Robb – Youth Support Specialist Supervisor, Westons Mills Agency Operated Boarding Home (WMAOBH)
Laurie began her journey at New Directions in 2003 when she came onboard as a Youth Counselor at the Westons Mills Agency Operated Boarding Home Cattaraugus County. After three years, she was promoted to Senior Youth Counselor, and then became the Program Coordinator for Westons Mills in 2008.
Laurie is a leader, a team-player, a role model, a coordinator, a motivator, a supporter, a documenter, a collaborator, and a planner all rolled into one! She partners with families, youth, DSS staff, New Directions staff, school districts, community service providers and community resources to get the kids in her program the most tailored care possible. It gives her great satisfaction to be part of a multi-faceted group that promotes the best possible desired outcomes for youth, families and the agency. Laurie’s favorite part about her work is hearing back from former WMAOBH youth and learning of their success and their adventures since they’ve moved on from the program.
Laurie is a real go-getter. She enjoys reading and learning new things, kayaking and enjoying the beautiful weather when she can, and her more recent hobby of iPhone photography. One thing that’s unique about Laurie is that she’s a blackbelt in Shotokan Karate. Laurie is also looking for a new canine friend! She wants to adopt a rescue dog in need of a loving, comfortable home.
This month, we’d like to recognize Laurie for her dedication to supporting children, families and staff!
Thank you for fostering good, Laurie!
Celebrating 150 years of caring for children
Beginning Monday, New Directions Youth and Family Services will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the
Lockport Ladies Relief Society, the forerunner of Wyndham Lawn Home for Children.
The Lockport Ladies Relief Society began dispensing food, coal, clothing and bedding to families in need in 1865. The society became incorporated on Feb. 8, 1871, and established a permanent home for “friendless and destitute” children on High Street in the city of Lockport. Needing more space, the society then moved to Wyndham Lawn in 1892 and became the Lockport Home for the Friendless. In 1917, the name was changed to Wyndham Lawn Home for Children.
Sharing similar philosophies, values and goals, New Directions Youth and Family Services was created by the merger of the Wyndham Lawn Home for Children and the Randolph Children’s Home in 1999.
Today, the Wyndham Lawn campus offers residential care for 30 children, as well as the Henrietta G. Lewis Campus School, the Wayne A. Secord Therapeutic Preschool and an array of services delivered in-home to families in Niagara and neighboring counties.
“We are proud to be standing on the foundation set by the courageous and compassionate women who founded the Lockport Ladies Relief Society 150 years ago” said James W. Coder, New Directions CEO. “Their vision and commitment to children in need sets a high standard for us and guides our work as we embark on the next 150 years of service at Wyndham Lawn.”
A year-long celebration is planned to honor the 150 years of service, showcasing the rich history and personal stories of individuals and their time on the Wyndham Lawn campus. Activities will be announced throughout this year on social media and the agency’s website, www.fosteringgood.org.
Additionally, New Directions is asking members of the community to support its mission by donating $150 to celebrate 150 years, throughout 2021. Any amount is appreciated, and monthly pledges are also welcomed.
Community members wishing to share their Wyndham Lawn experiences are invited to fill out the contact form online at www.fosteringgood.org/shareyourstory or contact New Directions Development Office at 433-4487.
Leslie Disbro is the development director for New Directions Youth & Family Services.
January Employee Spotlight
Prachee is a positive and goal-directed individual who has been working out of our Harlem Road Office since July of 2016. She began in the role of WRAP Care Coordinator, and one year later, she moved onto the position of Health Homes Care Manager. Now, Prachee works as a Health Homes outreach and engagement specialist, a position that was created about one year ago.
Originally hailing from India, Prachee followed her passion for the field of Psychology, and after completing her undergraduate degree, moved to the United States. She then went on to study at Duquesne University in Pittsburg, PA, to obtain her master’s degree in community counseling. After completing her education, Prachee moved to Fort Wayne, IN and worked in a mental health treatment center working with kids referred by Child Protective Services. She began as a care manager and then became a therapist. For 15 years, Prachee worked in the Home-Based Services Department, providing each child with the specific care they needed in a comfortable setting. In her current role, Prachee recommends Health Homes services to families that would be a good fit in our program. She advocates for New Directions to outside community partners. This way, it is easier for the agency to have families that require at-home counseling referred directly to us.
Prachee describes herself as an opinionated and outspoken person who will fight for what is right for kids and families. She loves her Health Homes team like a second family and is grateful for the open and friendly work environment that is provided by the agency. Prachee is dedicated to her goals and always keeps a positive outlook. Evidence of this is shown by how well she has grown into her newly created position. She has evolved her role from the ground up and thrived in a changing environment.
Prachee, Thank You for Fostering Good!
December Staff Spotlight
Julia has been a hardworking and dependable New Directions employee for eight years. She currently works as a Care Management Regional Supervisor alongside a great team of Health Home Care Managers located on the Wyndham Lawn Campus. Julia began working for New Directions in 2012 in the WRAP program, then transferred to Niagara County ICM before joining the Health Homes team.
In 2017, Julia received her master’s degree in social work from the University at Buffalo and subsequently became a supervisor. She supports and supervises multiple workers and has been a part of Niagara Health Homes since the program’s inception. Watching the growth of new programs within New Directions and their impact on families has been an extremely rewarding part of Julia’s work.
For the past several years, Julia has been a member of New Directions’ Save-A-Christmas committee, finding sponsors, gathering gift donations and delivering Christmas to children in our community-based programs. Julia is always ready to lend a hand and has helped “Save” Christmas for hundreds of kids!
Julia cites her fellow social work staff as her “second family” and is so grateful for their support these past eight years. In her spare time, Julia loves spending time with her kids, baking and camping. This month, we spotlight Julia for her dedication to supporting children, families and staff!
Thank you, Julia!
November Staff Spotlight Part 2
Denise has been shaping the futures of children for many years. It is a life-long passion for her! When she first started working at New Directions in 2015, Denise was an aide for the 2nd Grade class in the H.G. Lewis Campus School, but need arose for assistance at the then-new Preschool. Always looking for a chance to foster brighter futures and wanting to help with the younger children, Denise made the transition to aide in the Pre-K classroom. Her background in helping kids learn and grow goes back quite a bit further, however.
While her husband was in the Navy, Denise trained through the Department of Defense School system in Japan, where he was stationed. She then went on to work through the CDA credentialing program as an aide for children at Niagara County Head Start for 17 years. Because of her extensive experience, Denise is always on the ball and ready to help the Pre-K teacher at a moment’s notice as they both guide the children through fun and enriching activities.
Making a difference in the lives of children is most rewarding for Denise. She loves to see the little ones smile. In her spare time, Denise enjoys spending time with her husband of more than 32 years (Congratulations!), and her two boys. Her favorite activities include camping, cycling and gardening. Thank you, Denise, for all the guidance and care that you show our little ones!
November Staff Spotlight Part 1
Our first staff member being honored this month is Leslie Shellenbarger. Leslie is always on the go! She has been the Clinical Director for Foster Care in the south for 24 years and the Supervisor for the north and south SILP programs. SILP (Supervised Independent Living Program) currently takes up the majority of Leslie’s schedule. SILP started with one or two kids and has expanded to include 16! Leslie has guided SILP’s growth through her hard work and dedication.
Leslie started her journey at New Directions in 1992 (before it was called New Directions) initially working on the boys’ unit of the Randolph Children’s Home. Before this, Leslie earned her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Edinboro University and then her master’s degree in Social Services Administration from Case Western Reserve University. Leslie’s current position allows her to support children and families in foster care directly, which she loves. It is very rewarding for her to see former youth who have been adopted, in the community with their families looking happy and healthy. Leslie’s job also entails preparing young adults to go out into the world on their own. She feels like she has accomplished her goals when SILP youth demonstrate financial independence, manage finances, and seek and secure training and education.
One of Leslie’s favorite things to do in her free time is to take her boat out on Chautauqua Lake with her husband and friends. She is an avid fan of cards and tabletop games, including Euchre, Rounce and Settlers of Catan. From the bottom of her heart, Leslie thanks her fellow coworkers for their constant support and comradery, and also for putting up with her sarcasm.
Thank you, Leslie, for all the great things you do for our youth!
Adoption – It’s always worth the wait!
Adoption day is a long awaited and exciting day. We know because we had already adopted two boys when we received the date, March 2020, to adopt our two girls. After waiting a year and a half since surrender, we were ecstatic and relieved to have a set day before COVID-19 lock-downs began. We figured we had gotten lucky.
A week before the girls were set to be adopted, our adoption was postponed indefinitely. Adoptions were considered last priority at family court. Our hearts were broken, thinking that we would need to wait longer, and our anxiety was through the roof. What if this went on another year? Would this mean the girls would need all new paperwork? Would we ever get to have a normal adoption?
Well, nothing in 2020 is normal. After waiting two months we received a call from our lawyer asking if we wanted to adopt the girls virtually. We were torn at first. A virtual adoption meant no family, no friends, and no workers at the courthouse. It meant no photos with our judge, no fun get together after. Despite these things we decided that all we really cared about was closing their case once and for all.
So, we chose not to wait. We got our family of seven all dressed up in our “Gotcha Day” clothes, set up our iPad, and adopted our girls via Skype. The process was 10 minutes at most, and after we ordered pizza and chose to see the best in a not-so-traditional adoption.
During the stress, anxious nerves, and uncertainty our staff at New Directions really anchored us down. Hanna & Janett went above and beyond to help us feel supported. They sat with us through the good, the bad, the tears, and the celebrations.
We hope to show others that during this time it is more important than ever to work together. We are all navigating this week-to-week…sometimes day-to-day. There isn’t always a right answer to many of the questions Covid has raised. At the end of the day, the main thing that matters is the safety of the children in our care and the love we extend to one another. If you’re waiting for your adoption day, hang in there. It’s always worth the wait.
-A New Directions Foster and Adoptive Mother