Unexpected grandmother among ‘Rise Up’ recipients
NILES — Despite losing her son, Cynthia Bingham feels blessed to have the opportunity to raise the grandson she never knew existed until recently.
However, connecting Cynthia with her grandson, Michael Bingham, was far from easy.
Michael was brought to the Trumbull County Children Services’ attention in 2014 at the age of 2 after suffering bruising, cigarette burns, broken ribs, a fluid collection in his abdomen and a severing of the ureter. Although his injuries indicated child abuse, it was not clear who had hurt Michael.
When Children Services was informed that Michael’s biological father was deceased, the county agency contacted the coroner, who still had Blake Bingham’s DNA on file. The coroner determined him to be Michael’s father.
Blake Bingham died at the age of 29 in 2013. Using his obituary, Children Services found Cynthia, originally of Lordstown but now living in Cincinnati, and told her she had a grandson. Although she never knew he existed, Cynthia decided she wanted to raise the child.
“All my children are grown, so Michael was a real surprise,” Cynthia said.
Cynthia officially took custody of Michael on Feb. 11, 2016, and has been receiving help in raising him from Michael’s paternal aunt, Courtney Bingham. Aside from having to “babify” her house and learn some of the changes in raising children since bringing up her own, Cynthia said Michael has been nothing but a blessing.
“I’d like to thank everybody, especially Michael, because he is my little son,” Cynthia said tearfully.
For her efforts in raising the child, Cynthia was given the “Rising Up and Moving On” award on behalf of Children Services. Michael didn’t seem to notice the emotional nature of what was going on around him, frequently waving at people in the crowd and showing lots of excitement when he was presented with a bag of gifts and toys. By all appearances, Michael is an average 5 1/2-year-old boy despite the hardships he’s endured.
Two other people, Brian Crites and Brittney Dudley, also received the award for overcoming extreme hardships or helping others in need.
Crites of the Warren Police Department came to know two children, Frank Hunter and Frankie Hunter, from working as a school resource officer at Warren City Schools and at the apartment complex where the children lived. The boy, whom Crites used to call “Peanut,” would even hang out in Crites’ police cruiser, occasionally accompanied by his sister. Unfortunately, on Oct. 15, 2015, their mother, Teresa Washington Hunter, was murdered while the children were in school.
Because of the nature of their mother’s death, the children had to be placed temporarily in foster care out of the county. When a relative was found for the children, Crites accompanied Children Services workers and brought treat bags to provide a familiar and comforting face to the children. Afterwards, Crites organized for the children to visit their friends and teachers at school and arranged for their dog to be taken care of.
Most of the time and effort that Crites put in to help the children was done off-duty and although he has since moved on to the detective’s bureau, Crites said his one year as a school resource officer was especially significant for him.
“I believe that God only had me in that school for one year for a reason,” Crites said.
Brittney Duley, 22, of Austintown, since being placed with Pam and Tony Schofer in 2007, has been able to obtain her own apartment with assistance from Children Services and the Schofers, who also helped her get a car.
After graduating, Duley initially attended Trumbull County Career and Technical Center for cosmetology, but opted instead to start working. She is now working three jobs — as a clerical staff member at the Young Women’s Christian Association Discovery Palace in Youngstown, cleaning homes on weekends and a waitress at the Speakeasy owned by her foster family the Schofers.
“I wanted to start working with kids because I grew up as an unfortunate child, so I wanted to give back as much as I can,” said Duley, whose goal is to someday reconnect with all seven of her siblings.