Great foster parent: Robin Cook of Bishopville
Terry Edwards, resource home worker for the Worcester County Department of Social Services, who said the term “foster parent” has been updated to “resource parent” to reflect the expanded roles they play in the lives of the young people they help, said all of the 19 resource parents in the program “Do such an outstanding job.”
She commended Robin Cook for her ability to maintain biological connections between the children placed in the foster care system and their biological family members. “She is very good at helping the children maintain their cultural identity,” Edwards said of Cook.
According to Edwards, even when parental rights to their children have been terminated, Cook stays in contact with the birth parents if possible. Cook and her husband have fostered three children, and have adopted one child privately and one child through the Worcester County G.O.L.D. (Giving Other Lives Dignity) program.
Great child advocate: Pat Schumaker of Ocean Pines
Brigitte Saulsbury, program director for the Lower Shore CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) organization described Pat Schumaker as, “Extremely dedicated to the program and her role of advocate.”
The CASA program, which operates within Worcester Youth and Family Counseling services, helped 77 children in the area last year, according to Saulsbury.
She said the program has 45 advocates, who have each undergone hours of intensive training, background checks, and taken oaths of office. Their roles are to get to know the abused or neglected children in their care, along with the family members, therapists and teachers who also touch the lives of those children, in order to submit reports on behalf of the children in court. “I’m pretty amazed at the work they do,” which Saulsbury said can be heart wrenching.
She said Schumaker goes beyond what is normally expected and has been extremely involved with the two teenagers, one young girl and baby boy she has been assigned in the program. Schumaker helps the children build life experiences and basic social skills with activities like dining out and tea parties, according to Saulsbury.
“She also helps train new volunteers,” she said.
Schumaker, a retired business owner, said her objective was to help the children she advocates for establish permanence in their lives, in addition to assuring their safety and well-being. She has two daughters and four grandchildren, although, she pointed out she is legally barred from allowing interactions between her court appointed children and her own children.
She said of the children she represents, “I call them my CASA children. They call me Miss Pat.” She said she sees the program as a sacred relationship, one where she has been entrusted to be in their lives at a time when the children are in their most vulnerable situations.
Schumaker said her saddest moments are when she sees the levels of abuse and neglect some children are forced to suffer when the need for drugs or alcohol blinds parents from seeing the negative impacts their behavior has on their children.
She said her happiest moments are when a child is reunited with family members they previously thought were lost to them.
“That is a profound moment,” she said.
She also celebrates when a child who was previously convinced he or she were incapable of achievement gets that first job and takes that initial step toward becoming a productive member of society, or when a baby goes to a permanent loving family.
Most of all, Schumaker said, a memorable moment for her is when she sees that a child has developed enough trust in her to know that he or she can call on her when needed.
Great philanthropist: Betty Tustin of Berlin
Pastor Bryan Pugner, of the Worship Center in Berlin, was quick to name Betty Tustin as “A great lady in our church,” whom he called a “Super Great Mom!”
Pugner described Tustin as a tremendously sweet and kind-hearted woman, whose entire family was absolutely amazing. He said she has a daughter with special needs and still finds the time for philanthropic projects.
At Christmas, according to Pugner, Tustin heads the church’s Christmas Outreach program, which reaches out to single mothers to find out what toys, clothes and shoes they need to help their families enjoy the holiday.
Her program coordinates with the Toys for Tots organization, as part of the effort to request the items and organize the gifts, he said. In all, Tustin’s Christmas program helps children from 30 to 35 area families have a happy Christmas each year.
Tustin also hosts the Kid’s Port program, a boat-themed Sunday school at the church, and a book club for seniors at the Gull Creek Senior Living Community, along with a monthly hymn sing, all of which is sponsored by the Worship Center, which is an Assemblies of God church.
But Tustin was noticeably uncomfortable with the thought of an article focusing on her because, she said, she was only doing God’s work and that was where the praise should be directed. “It is only through prayer and the Holy Spirit that these things can be done,” she said.