By CARL E. FEATHER - email@example.com
A spring shower beat on the roof of the Jefferson Community Center while tears fell inside as victims of child abuse shared their stories of pain and recovery Wednesday afternoon.
The It Takes a Community annual luncheon, sponsored by the Ashtabula County Children Services Board, promotes the message that “child abuse is preventable” while honoring clients who found hope and healing through the agency’s work.
Keynote speaker for the luncheon was Julia Fink, a Pymatuning Valley High School senior who shared the story of her long road to recovery from child abuse. Julia, who was 9 when her mother discovered that her father was abusing her, said she had to deal with a wide range of emotional issues that took years to heal.
“The trauma didn’t end when the abuse did,” Julia said.
Describing child abuse as the “hardest thing” she ever had to deal with, Julia said she decided her past would not destroy her future. “Events shape our past, but choices shape our future,” she said.
A Girl Scout, Julia worked with county libraries to make and place a child abuse awareness display in every library.
Tania Burnett, executive director of the Children Services Board, said Fink’s work is indicative of a theme that ran through the system in 2012 — children helping peers recover their lives from an abusive situation. Examples included the award-winning video produced by students of the Pymatuning Valley Local School District’s media class and students at Jefferson Elementary and Edgewood Senior High adopting foster-care children for the holidays.
“When kids do what’s right for kids, it’s really amazing,” Burnett said.
She cited as an example the seniors in the A-Tech early childhood education class, who once a month plan and provide children’s activities for parents attending CSB training sessions. For their efforts, the board presented an Above and Beyond Award to teacher Christina Sisk.
The agency also honored foster parents Marian and John Hostetler of Orwell Township with an Above and Beyond Award. The Hostetlers were foster parents to the son of Kayla Ekensten, a CSB client, while she went through the judicial system and addiction treatment. Kayla received a Rising Up and Moving On award for her successful completion of the program.
Her caseworker, Cindy Day, recalled the day she took Kayla’s toddler to see her mother at the jail. “He had not seen his mother in 10 months,” Day said. “I cannot express the smile she had on her face.”
Day said Kayla has been “clean and sober” for two years and has put her life back on track.
“I gave my son up for something I wanted to do,” Ekensten said of her addiction.
Ann Dragon, a volunteer who works on the board’s behalf with the Garage Sale Bonanza, received an Above and Beyond award for working behind the scenes to raise money for the agency. Burnett said that Dragon has donated more than 1,000 hours to the effort and gave 192 hours in three months last year.
Another energetic worker, Judy Bertshinger of Signature Health, also received the Above and Beyond award for her dedication to CSB clients. Caseworker Kerri Mongel said Bertshinger is on call 24/7 and has a heavy case load, but “she makes each family feel like they are the one and only family she works with.”
Rising Up and Moving On awards also went to Nicole Weekley and Shelley Styzej.
Burnett said the agency handled 2,747 calls/referrals to report suspected child abuse and/or neglect last year. That was an increase over the prior year. Concurrently, the agency has experienced an increased need for foster parents.
“There are kids out there who need safe, stable homes to live in,” she said.