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Remembering a "mover and shaker"

January 6, 2011 - Betsy Bethel
I learned a lot about my late friend Deb Allen during her funeral eulogy delivered by local educator Lou Volpe on Monday. While I wasn't surprised, my heart ached upon learning, for example, that a teenage Deb was loquacious, friendly, bubbly and busy. Little had changed in 40 years, as that aptly describes the 56-year-old community mover-and-shaker whom I knew and admired. (I will say, that while she was a great speaker and never lost her loquaciousness, she also never opened her mouth unnecessarily. She always thought carefully before speaking, so that what she said would not be misunderstood or misconstrued.)

I have known Deb for about 10 years, having met her through my work covering family news at the newspapers and her work serving families in Ohio County and beyond. In recent years, our circles grew tighter when I joined the Ohio County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, of which she was a founding member. Most recently, in December, I was privileged to serve with Deb on an interview committee for a coalition coordinator. I have attended several public parenting classes she helped organize, including Dr. Mike Thomson's excellent presentations, and had the pleasure of sitting in on an Early Childhood Interagency Committee meeting she led — an offshoot of her work with Ohio County Partners in Prevention and Ohio County Family Resource Network.

And just one week before she passed away, I sorted through notes she sent me about a presentation she made to local legislators during a Breakfast With the Legislators event. It was an event she passionately planned and hosted in her roles as executive director of the Family Resource Network and team leader of the Partners in Prevention. The resulting article, along with comments by CASA director Susan Harrison, appeared in the Monday, Dec. 27 editions of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, just two days before Deb died unexpectedly at home. Deb leaves behind her parents, her husband and her teenage son and daughter ... and a pair of shoes that will be nearly impossible to fill.

Deb touched the lives of many. She was relentless in serving local children and families. She was a joy to work with — her attention to detail remains legendary and many have benefited (as participants and co-planners) from her gift for planning meaningful events with the maximum impact. She had a twinkle in her eye that signified to me a zest for living; a quiet sense of humor; a gentle, caring soul.

Below, in order to give you an overview of this wonderful woman's work and a glimpse of her personality, I am reprinting in their entirety her notes from her Breakfast With the Legislators presentation, which took place at Generations Pub and Restaurant on Monday, Dec. 20. These are her words as written in her presentation notes which she e-mailed to me the day after the event. Please note that the purpose of the presentation was to help the incoming legislators understand the breadth and depth of the needs of children and families in our area as well as the impact of prevention programs — implemented by a team of local professionals — so they could make more informed decisions in Charleston (lest anyone think Deb was needlessly tooting her own horn). Any parentheses are mine.

After welcoming legislators-elect Erikka Storch, Orphy Klempa and Ryan Ferns, Deb introduced Ohio County Schools Superintendent George Krelis. She picks up from there:

"The Family Resource Networks are not designed to provide direct services, rather the FRNs, as they are called, are charged to assess community needs, determine if there are programs in place to address identified needs and to organize community members and organizations to work together to address identified unmet needs.

"The Ohio County Partners in Prevention is a perfect example of community members and organizations coming together to successfully address the prevention of child abuse and neglect. As the Team Leader for the Ohio County Partners in Prevention, I am very proud to share with you today a sampling of the accomplishments that have been made through the efforts of this very dedicated group of individuals.

"Because I wanted to do justice for the work that has been done I struggled with how to share this information with you. I reviewed progress and final reports, and developed a presentation that discussed the levels of the spectrum of prevention, protective factors, the importance of fostering coalitions and networks and even the components of our strategic work plan.

"Then I rehearsed my presentation in front of my family and, much to my dismay, I watched as their eyes glazed over and I could see the words forming on their foreheads, 'OH NO, HERE SHE GOES AGAIN, STOP, PLEASE, SOMEONE MAKE HER STOP!'

"So I decided to drop the technical jargon and simply share with you from the heart our accomplishments and to hopefully provide a few examples of how our efforts have impacted the lives of children and families in Ohio County.

"Please bear with me as I start out with a little background information.

"Partners in Prevention is sponsored by Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia, with funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, West Virginia Children’s Trust Fund, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "In 2004, Prevent Child Abuse WV awarded the first Partners in Prevention grants and Ohio County was one of the first recipients. A few members that you will meet today, are the original members of the Ohio County Partners in Prevention Team.

"By some standards this is a relatively small grant, $7,500 for each annual grant cycle, but I believe that we have been good stewards of the money and have worked creatively to develop strong partnerships to best serve the children and families in our community.

"I know that I speak for all of us, when I say that we are very proud of the accomplishments of our team.

"We have sponsored parenting classes and presentations for the parents of our community. Some parents have been strongly encouraged to attend, and others come simply because they want to be the best parents that they can be.

"We have utilized a variety of curriculums and have offered presentations on topics such as: Children Coping With Divorce, Keeping Children Safe, Advice From Child Molesters, Raising a Successful Step-Family, Internet Safety, and — here is one that many of us can relate to — (Dr. Mike Thomson's) Strategies For Saving Your Sanity in Parenthood.

"In addition to these classes, we have collaborated with the Early Childhood Interagency Committee to help to sponsor six Baby Safety Showers. Professionals in the community have provided instruction on a variety of relevant topics which have included: the prevention of shaken baby syndrome, the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome, stress management, medication management, car seat safety and the effects of secondhand smoke, to name a few. Each family receives a safety-related gift and information regarding services that are available to families in Ohio County in case they would need assistance. Most recently, the Fort Henry Piecemkers Quilt Guild has provided a handmade baby quilt for each mother; this is a wonderful example of how our community supports our efforts.

"Anyone who has ever tried to organize families will attest to the fact that, due to family and work responsibilities and time constraints, families are often a difficult group to reach, we have been successful in reaching over 580 parents.

"After completing one of the parenting classes, one parent reported, 'It is a great program that really helps parents to deal not only with their kids but also themselves. It helps to make “home” a better place to live.'

"Through our collaboration with the Ohio County Public and Parochial Schools, West Liberty University, Wheeling Jesuit University and the Marshall and Ohio County Healthy Families/Healthy Children Initiative, we have been able to provide student presentations. "My daughter, who is a senior at WPHS (Wheeling Park High School), has remarked that students when contemplating decisions or dealing with the consequences of their actions still revert back to 'GOOD CHIOCE - POOR CHOICE - MY CHOICE,' a message skillfully intertwined through out Dr. Mike (Thomson)’s entertaining presentation, 'It’s All About Character' that they heard in eighth grade. Dr. Mike challenges students to take responsibility for their actions, he tells them that the strength of their character is determined by their actions “WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING” and he discusses the destructiveness of bullying and the inappropriate use of social media. "It is our hope that by offering presentations on character development we will be influencing the next generation who will: evaluate their own behavior and take responsibility for their actions, and realize that:

— substance abuse is WRONG

— that abusing or neglecting a child is WRONG and

— that abusing a girlfriend OR boyfriend or spouse is WRONG!

"Last year, Jim and Elsa Croucher from the Citizens Against Domestic Violence did three powerful presentations on the prevention of teen dating violence. Jim and Elsa’s daughter at the age of 18 was killed by her boyfriend and they have made it their mission to speak to students all over our country about healthy relationships and the prevention of dating violence.

"Another member of their team always accompanies them who illustrates by her own life story that it IS possible to escape an abusive relationship and to live a successful, healthy and productive life.

"The first time that I saw a student approach the speaker following a presentation to discuss violence in her relationship, I must say, I was shocked — she was 16; but, I can tell you that it has happened after every presentation. A student or students will approach the speaker, a guidance counselor or a member of the YWCA Family Violence Prevention Program or Sexual Assault Help Center to discuss their own abusive relationship or to express concerns about a friend or family member.

"All of the speakers on this topic have brought some sort of 'relationship quiz' that they make available to the students. I remember one girl in particular who after completing her relationship quiz came up to the speaker with tears in her eyes and said, 'I have answered “yes” to all of these questions. I think that I need to talk to someone.'

"Through our collaboration with the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI and the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department, we were able to provide the first Internet safety presentation at WPHS. I can still feel that knot in my stomach as I heard about how an Internet predator lured two unsuspecting young girls into a desolate location and I knew that it happened in Wheeling since I recognized the local businesses near where the crime took place. You could have heard a pin drop during this presentation. It is so important that students realize how easily Internet predators can infiltrate even a safe community like Wheeling and how important it is that they learn to be safe on the Internet. "Through these presentations we have reached over 5,500 students.

"Through our partnerships, we have been able to provide quality trainings by national speakers and local talent to the professionals in our community. We have provided trainings on topics such as: Keeping Children Safe From Child Molesters, Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Children and Adults, Understanding a Successful Step-Family, the Prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, the Prevention of Shaken Baby Syndrome, and A Framework for Understanding Poverty.

"I would like to quote two professionals from the workshop evaluations: 'This workshop was extremely powerful and helped me to better understand why sex offenders offend, as well as being very beneficial to learn to be more aware of the signs of people who are or may be sex offenders — I am now more and better prepared to work with families.' Another said, 'I thought that I had a good understanding of stepfamilies before this workshop, but I have learned so much — The loss component is something that I had not thought much of — I feel like I now understand the dynamics so much better.'

"Over 950 professionals have participated in these workshops.

"Although our primary focus is on prevention, we are also aware of the need for early detection of child abuse and neglect. It is important for the community to know how to protect children especially if child abuse or neglect is suspected. To this end, we have developed a community awareness campaign, 'Be A Child’s Voice …. Report Child Abuse.' Banners, posters and brochures have been developed to inform the public on how to identify and report suspected child abuse and neglect.

"I think that you would all agree that knowledge empowers people. Through our efforts we are empowering parents, students, professionals and other members of our community.

"I know that it is quite apparent that all of these accomplishments cannot be done as the work of one person. It is through the dedication and support of several individuals who believe in working in a collaborative partnership as a team that accomplishments such as these are possible.

"We have accomplished many things, but there is still much work to be done. When I attend statewide Team Leader meetings, I am always impressed and energized by what Partners in Prevention are doing throughout the state. I am especially proud to be a member of our Ohio County Partners in Prevention Team and now it is my honor to introduce you to our Team Members and a few of our Community Partners who are with us today.

(After introducing the members, she introduces speaker Susan Harrison. At the end, Deb states:)

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank you once again for your time and attentiveness. On behalf of the Ohio County Partners in Prevention Team, I would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. May 2011 bring you and yours good health and happiness. And I hope that all of us will approach the new year with the #1 Question in mind, Is it Good for Children?

"Thank you."


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Blog Photos

Photo by Betsy Bethel Pictured at a holiday/farewell dinner for Ohio County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition director Julia Charvat at Uncle Pete's in Wheeling on Dec. 21 are, seated, Deb Allen, left, and Jill Eddy; standing, Carole Scheerbaum, left, and Lori Garrett-Bumba.