BROOKVILLE — The Jefferson County Children and Youth Services (CYS) Advisory Board saluted foster parents from across the county during its annual Resource Parents Appreciation dinner Monday, and named a Punxsy woman as its Foster Parent of the Year.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot more out of helping them than they got from me,” this year’s award-winner, Cathy Riggie of Punxsy, said, referencing the pride and joy that she has when working with the youth for whom she has cared.
Riggie began taking in foster children seven years ago, in part because she worked with at-risk youth through Community Action’s Crossroads program.
“I saw a lot of youth with little or no guidance, and I wanted to make a difference,” she said.
Standing at Riggie’s side Monday was PAHS senior Lisa Tinker who, now at age 18, was previously in the foster program but has lived with Riggie for the past five years.
The tears on Tinker’s face were evidence that Riggie has made that difference she was hoping to seven years ago when she got involved.
“She has helped me so much,” Tinker said. “She has made me a stronger person and helped me get to where I am.”
“I’m Mom to her,” Riggie added.
Tinker was also recognized Monday, because she was one of three foster children in the county who will continue their education after high school. She received the state-wide Outstanding Achievement Award through the Juvenile Justice Judge Commission, and recently announced that she will attend Penn State-DuBois to pursue a master’s degree in social work.
Tinker said Riggie was responsible for such an announcement. Having previously lived with other foster parents, Tinker said the difference in Riggie’s home was obvious.
“She provided me with a positive future,” she said about Riggie. “That was something that the other’s couldn’t.”
The dinner, this year with a western theme, is held to thank foster parents who open their homes to at-risk youth in the area. Advisory Board President Mary Ann Kernich referenced “the code of the west,” and compared the code’s tenets to the actions of foster parents.
Those tenets were having respect for yourself; accepting responsibility for your life; being positive; honoring your word; going the distance; being fair; and being a good neighbor and friend.”
People who lived by this code “found people trusted them and wanted to be associated with them,” Kernich said. “In turn, they found people they associated with also started living by the code. Resource parents, we notice that you humbly live this code also.”
Continuing with that theme, Kernich said, “Sometimes, foster children find themselves out in the wilderness without the proper to cope. Resource parents help them move to higher ground for safety.
“Resource parents, you are fearless, and you are appreciated, especially tonight by this board,” she said. “You are not only volunteers who make America Strong, you make Jefferson County strong.”
Each foster parent was presented with a certificate of appreciation, a personalized gift from CYS Director Brian Mowrey, $25 and a gift from a private donor.
“You may never hear ‘thank you,’ enough for all the love that you give to foster children, but the way you affect their lives is observed in their successes,” Kernich said. “For that, you are greatly appreciated.”
District Attorney Jeffrey Burkett agreed, saying, “I am so thankful for what you do. As the chief law enforcement agent in the county, I recognize some of the (youth’s) faces here. I am so honored to be with a group that takes such care of those who need it.”
Brookville Police Chief Ken Dworek said the foster parent program was one that truly had value to the community, and thanked all those who are involved.
“A lot of times, you cannot see the progress you’ve made or the things you have accomplished,” he said. “This is one program that you do see that progress. Cathy (Riggie) has put in seven years of dedicated service. When you can come and see what she’s done, it’s amazing.”
In closing, Kernich quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Not everyone can be famous, but everyone can be great, because greatness is determined by service.
“You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato or Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s Theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
“You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love, as you dedicate yourselves to building stronger, more positive lives for children.”