Former Warren Mayor Michael O'Brien put it best when describing the people honored at the Trumbull County Children Services annual Rising Up and Moving On luncheon:
"You want to be the kind of person who is being honored today. These people are open, adaptable and flexible when it comes to overcoming pain and suffering. These people are survivors."
Ashleigh, 18, of Warren, right, is overcome with emotion as she receives a Rising Up and Moving On award during the recognition luncheon Tuesday. Ashleigh’s caseworker, Erica Beil, from Trumbull County Children Services, is at her side.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
The 14th annual luncheon, held at McMenamy's Banquet Center in Niles, honored Children Services' families and children who have prevailed over great adversity. The event also honored a community member for volunteerism, commitment and generosity to children.
Chas Kottenbrook III and Karen Ezirim, two members of Ohio's Primary Parent Advisory Council, were guest speakers.
Kottenbrook and his wife have served as foster parents for 11 years, and the Ross County native spoke to the importance of both foster and birth parents in raising a child.
Rising Up and Moving On honorees
Michelle Henderson and Shafer Davis
Ashleigh (last name withheld)
Service to Children volunteerism award:
Girl Scout Lauren Wimer, Howland High School
"The way I can help my foster children is to help their birth parents get the child back home," Kottenbrook said. "We need to get more kids back home and out of the system. I realize that people get into hard spots in life. I'm just part of a child's history, but their main history should be with the birth parent."
Ezirim is the parent to 10 children and lost children to foster care due to years of alcohol and drug abuse. Now celebrating her ninth year of sobriety, Ezirim praised the work of foster parents and case workers in helping her and other parents in her situation rise above their struggles.
"It takes a lot to continue to help parents like me after we continue to fall over and over," Ezirim said. "One of the foster parents who got my kids became my best friend because she showed me unconditional love when I was unable to love myself."
Rising Up and Moving On honoree Ashleigh (last name not given), 18, was removed from her mother in 2003, eventually awarded to her father, but was placed in agency custody in 2010 because of severe behavioral problems. She has lived in a variety of foster homes. She moved to a community home a year ago and has flourished, making friends and achieving good grades.
''Ashleigh has beaten the odds and overcome obstacles in her 18 years that many of us adults could hardly begin to imagine,'' her caseworker, Erica Bell, said.
Honoree Christine D'Angelo gave birth to a daughter in 2012, and both mother and baby tested positive for opiates and marijuana. The child was placed with a grandmother and treated for withdrawal symptoms. Two months later, D'Angelo voluntarily went through detox, rejoined her family, changed her life, and has become a nurturing mother with full custody of her child, according to caseworker Elsie Ward.
''I believe as a worker, I learned a lot from this family. Through their ups and downs, the one true constant was their love for each other,'' Ward said.
Honorees Michelle Henderson and Shafer Davis struggled for years with substance abuse and mental health concerns, according to caseworker Ramona Marsh. Eleven of their 12 children were placed with relatives or adopted out, Marsh said.
''However, that all changed with the birth of their last child, Sierra,'' Marsh said. Both worked through substance abuse treatment and made no excuses. ''They just set their mind to beating the odds this time and raising their daughter.''
Also feted was volunteer Lauren Wimer, who was awarded Service to Children award for her efforts in securing personal hygiene products and comfort toys for children in foster care.
A Girl Scout and senior at Howland High School, Wimer was recently awarded the Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve, for her work in providing for foster children.
Herself the biological child of foster parents, Wimer said she has experienced firsthand the sort of struggles that foster children must go through.
"Sometimes, kids would just show up in the middle of the night at our house with nothing but a diaper on," Wimer said. "When you wake up in the morning, there's just a new kid here that's never had anything to hold on to in their lives, so I wanted to be able to give them something they could call their own."