ASHTABULA — Dianne Solembrino, long time director for the Ashtabula County Children Services Board, didn’t start her years of service with the agency with a degree in hand. Born and reared in Saybrook Township, Solembrino graduated in 1959 from Ashtabula High School, then worked at several different jobs before getting married.

“The marriage didn’t work out, so here I was a single mom with two kids, but I wanted to go to college. I started here in June 1969 as a job orientation worker when the agency was called Department of Welfare. Oh, and so many changes have come for the better since those days,” Solembrino said as she contemplates her last day on Wednesday and retiring.

Her staff of 72 employees and the CSB trustees are giving Solembrino a farewell open house party from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the agency quarters in the Donahoe Center complex in Ashtabula. Co-workers, families she’s helped over the years and the general public are invited to attend.

Recalling her start on what would be a span of nearly 39 years, Solembrino said, “I was assigned to the child welfare section and the agency’s first case aide. I felt being a single mom I had some background to help other women in the same situations. My job was to transport children from the old children’s home or foster homes. We would do a lot of recreation related trips for the kids.”

She was encouraged by her supervisors and agency director to go to college even on a part-time basis.

Solembrino found herself immersed in getting valuable job experience along the way including working with cases dealing with adopted babies. “I thought I would adopt these babies for my own, but you can’t. That was hard for me, but I would inspect and certify the foster home parents for the babies,” she said.

During those early years, Solembrino embarked on getting her college degree, first taking classes at Lakeland Community College. This petite redhead combined her job and rearing two children as many women did in the 1960s and 1970s. She is also a founder of Homesafe Inc., the county’s domestic violence shelter for women and children.

She finally obtained her bachelor of arts degree in human services and counseling in 1982 from Capital University in Columbus. “They had a program called college without walls in Cleveland and that’s where I completed my degree. I’ve never regretted getting into this field to help kids and parents. Many people think of our agency as kid snatchers. We aren’t, but we all work hard to keep families together through our many programs and counseling,” Solembrino said.

She takes great pride in being a descendant of an early pioneer, Alexander Harper in this part of the Connecticut Western Reserve. Harper settled in Unionville before the War of 1812, she said.

“Shandy Hall, built by his son Robert, is a place I’ve visited often. My dad was a Harper descendant and perhaps that’s where I’ve gotten the strength to get through tough times personally,” she said.

Solembrino said she’s pleased that Nick Kerosky, the agency’s community service director for 23 years, will be taking over her job. The agency, over the years, has added many programs to help children, from infancy to 18 years, always keeping the goal of keeping families together.

“Our main goal is helping do away with abuse and neglect of children and keep them with their families if we can. Improving parenting skills for young mothers and fathers has been a success for us. We have federal and state grants like the Protect Ohio Program to help families stay together if at all possible. Today it’s drug and alcohol abuse that leads to much of the trouble we deal with,” she said.

The agency works with an average of 3,000 children a year in a variety of programs. One of newest programs is providing summer meals for children in the northern part of Ashtabula County. It is done in a collaboration with other social service agencies and churches.

“We began and got the Family and Children First Council going in the county along with Help Me Grow programs. I’ve gotten our staff to think out of the box and be creative,” she said.

A bit old fashioned in her own ideals of rearing children to be responsible and respectful, Solembrino contends it doesn’t hurt to spank a child.

“I spanked my own children when needed. You can spank a child, but not beat them. That’s the difference. I don’t know how we have gotten to the point of kids being unruly and disrespectful,” she said shaking her head.

If she kept a journal of her near 39 years with CSB agency, Solembrino said the saddest writings would deal with human tragedy of death like the Caroline Clark killing several years ago in the city. She doesn’t like to dwell on these memories, but they are not forgotten.

“I’m not just going to retire, but will continue to do part-time elderly home health counseling for a Conneaut firm. I want to have time now to spend with my four grandkids and three great-grandchildren. We love to camp and fish at Pymatuning Lake. So I‘ll keep busy,” she said.

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