"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee." Marian Wright Edelman, founder, Children's Defense Fund
This year in celebrating the Week of the Young Child, local organizers are calling attention to the people who make the "small daily differences" in children's lives with a new Champions for Children award. They also are encouraging everyone to determine what contribution they can make individually.
The Week of the Young Child, celebrated nationwide today through Saturday, was started by the National Association for the Education of Young Children nearly 40 years ago as a way to focus attention on youngsters, their families and the professionals and caregivers who serve them.
The local celebration will take place in individual child care centers and preschools with field trips, special visitors, staff appreciation days and family events.
In Ohio County, two groups comprising dozens of local children's agencies are sponsoring a communitywide celebration kicking off with an opening ceremony at noon Monday at the City-County Building flagpole.
The ceremony, to which the public is invited, will include a proclamation read by Wheeling Vice Mayor Gene Fahey, participation of local child care centers, and recognition of the three local Champions for Children Award winners: Jason Prettyman, Kathy Shapell and Mary Lou Birkett.
Additional activities this week include a Baby Safety Shower for expectant mothers and parents of children under age 3; workshops for professionals and parents on foster care and autism; and a "porch light campaign" in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is April.
Sponsors of the communitywide events are the Ohio County Partners in Prevention and the Ohio County Early Childhood Interagency Committee, a subcommittee of the Ohio County Family Resource Network.
"We hope to encourage members of the community to thank those who positively impact the lives of young children and encourage community members to also be actively involved in making significant contributions to the lives of young children and the families," said organizer Deb Allen, who heads all three entities.
"The Week of the Young Child is a time to recognize that children's opportunities are our responsibilities, and to recommit ourselves to ensuring that each and every child experiences the type of early environment - at home, at child care, at school and in the community - that will promote their early learning," states a National Week of the Young Child fact sheet.
The Champions for Children Award is a new addition to local Week of the Young Child festivities.
"The ECIC and PIP committees sponsored the contest because we believe that it is important to recognize people who are making extraordinary efforts. These are people who go above and beyond their job requirements to make a difference in the lives of children," said Susan Harrison, award committee chair and director of CASA for Children at the YWCA Wheeling. CASA stands for court-appointed special advocates.
"I believe that the three people chosen represent a cross-section of our community, showcasing very different professions and how they help children," she added.
Nominations were solicited from the public. Early Childhood Interagency Committee members discussed the nominations at a March meeting and voted anonymously on the three winners.
Jason Prettyman of St. Clairsville has made a career of helping others. It began just after graduating in 1989 from Wheeling Park High School, when he took a job with the Belmont Habilitation Center in St. Clairsville, assisting adults with mental disabilities. He then worked for a number of agencies while earning his bachelor's degrees in psychology and sociology from West Liberty State College and Master of Social Work from West Virginia University.
Before starting in 2000 as a youth service worker with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, he worked for REM West Virginia, Youth Services System Inc. and The Children's Home of Wheeling. At the DHHR, Prettyman worked with at-risk youth for two years before becoming a case worker for Child Protective Services.
"As an ongoing worker with the DHHR, Jason became very involved with the children in his caseload," wrote attorney Lisa Hawrot in her nomination letter. "I would often go on home visits with him and observed firsthand his dedication to those children and the children's reactions to him."
In 2009, Prettyman was promoted to Multi-Disciplinary Team coordinator and youth services supervisor.
"The disappointment from the children was obvious. In on particular case, the children wanted to throw him a 'going away party.' Children in other cases continue to ask about him." And he continues to inquire about them, Hawrot wrote.
Teresa Haught, one of his supervisors, responded by e-mail to questions about Prettyman.
"Jason frequently goes 'above and beyond' for children and adults in our community, and for DHHR. On two separate occasions in the last year, Jason volunteered to work additional hours to complete family functioning assessments for the intake child protective service unit to assure allegations of abuse and neglect are assessed and addressed in a timely manner."
Prettyman organizes the Multi-Disciplinary Team meetings for cases, takes notes at the meetings and coordinates all of the information that will be presented to the judge, who will make a decision about a child's future.