Heroes Among Us
Every spring, SCAN celebrates five individuals from each region of Northern Virginia at its annual Allies in Prevention Awards Luncheon. The award winners (there have been more than 60 since the awards began in 2003!) have come from all walks of life — from social workers and foster parents to judges and doctors — and each have made unique efforts to prevent child abuse and strengthen families in their communities and beyond.
This year, five more individuals were selected by a task force of SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition and they are another remarkable group of heroes for children and families:
- Laurie Meyer was the founding Team Leader for Alexandria’s Community Wraparound Team in the Department of Community and Human Services until 2014. For 24 years — she began as a social worker in 1990 — she provided incredible children’s behavioral health services for the most at-risk children in her community. The Community Wraparound Team she founded and her development of its programming have transformed how the city serves (and thinks about) its most at-risk families. “As far as I’m concerned,” noted one community partner, “Laurie is the center of Alexandria’s System of Care.” Studies note that whenever possible, the best place for children is in their community with family-driven and youth-led service plans. Laurie knew this, and worked with intense dedication to create a system of care that was best for the children. In 2008, Alexandria had 66 children in congregant care. Today, there are only six. “We recognize that without Laurie’s wisdom and leadership,” said her nominators, “this would not have been possible.” Even during personal illness, Laurie remained committed to the children and families of Alexandria. Last September, she passed away at the age of 53 leaving behind a husband and three daughters as well as many close family members and colleagues. But the children of Alexandria will be touched by Laurie’s work and compassion for generations to come.
- Jennifer Landis-Santos is a Parent & Youth Workshop Facilitator, Program Coordinator and Mental Health Therapist for Arlington County. In that multi-faceted position she administers a grant from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Families (which she won) to help the county provide parenting classes and other programs for youth and families, and also coordinates the Strengthening Families parenting program in Arlington. But her passionate commitment to children goes far beyond her work in Arlington. Jennifer also founded Career Definitions, a project which provides tools to help youth plan for future careers, stay connected with parents during the college application process and go on “Career Tours,” opportunites for students to see jobs up close in the DC area. Focused on positive interactons between children and parents, the initiative helps youth believe in themselves and strengthens families to provide support. “Jennifer’s dedication to serving families, generous commitment to helping children and her respect for ALL persons is reflected in the response the families have to her work and initiatives,” noted her nominator. Jennifer also sits on the board of HACAN (Hispanics Against Abuse and Neglect). She and her husband, Carmelo, have two young children.
- Cheryl Keiper has witnessed some incredible changes in Fairfax County over the past three decades. Today she supervises the county’s Parent Education Programs, but her experience also includes work as a CPS caseworker and a Foster Care & Adoption specialist. Perhaps it’s those first experiences that ignited her passion for prevention through parent education. “I have never known anyone who believes in the importance and impact of parenting programs as strongly as Cheryl,” notes her nominator. For 16 years, Cheryl has managed a rapidly growing parent education program in the county. In 2000, the county offered 13 classes and reached 127 families. Last year, it was 40 classes reaching nearly 400 families! But it’s not just about numbers; Cheryl was committed to improving the programming for an increasingly diverse community. Under her leadership, the county added three African American Culture curricula, a variety of new targeted classes for specific parenting groups and Spanish-language classes. Cheryl’s belief in connections with families kept her facilitating classes even when she was managing the program, and when her workload grew she remained committed to visiting every class in person. Her work with faith-based organizations, community centers and schools also helped grow the program and provided a wonderful example of private-public collaboration. This May, Cheryl will retire after 39 years serving children and families, but her inspiration will continue to impact the program. “For Cheryl,“ notes her nominator, “serving families has not just been a job; it has been her passion.”
- Donna Fortier has long been an active citizen in Loudoun County. But four years ago, she took a bold new step. While working as the Director of Community Affairs at Inova Loudoun Hospital, Donna became aware of a staggering statistic — though living in one of the nation’s richest counties, over 1,100 children were identified as precariously housed, homeless, or at risk. She immediately launched the Mobile Hope Program to improve access to care and break down service barriers, while working to meet the daily needs of this often “invisible” population. Donna soon left her position with Inova to focus on growing Mobile Hope, knowing that the program could forever impact at-risk youth in Loudoun County. “Donna’s passion to protect children is evident in everything she does,” notes her nominator. Last year Mobile Hope served more than 550 diverse youth every month in Loudoun County, distributing thousands of clothing and hygiene items as well as more than 11,000 meals and bags of food. In addition, Mobile Hope provides services that can reduce family stress. “Our job is to help these young people so they don’t become invisible,” notes Donna. “We strive to make their lives easier so they have an opportunity to succeed.”
- Kristiana Poole is a Victim Advocate for Quantico Marine Base’s Family Advocacy Program (FAP), and in just three short years has made an incredible impact on both its programs and the families it serves. Bringing experiences from Child Protective Services and Empower House, where she was a community victim advocate, Kristiana now facilitates the highest number of groups ever offered by the FAP. In addition to workshops and classes, she is also the primary abuse prevention trainer for the base’s two Child Development Centers. Kristiana also piloted a SAFE Dates program for students last year, and has been instrumental in other programs for children including a psycho-educational group called Stepping Up to the Challenge and a REAL Talk for Girls Group. “Kristiana always presents as enthusiastic and flexible,” notes her nominator, “with a contagious positive attitude towards her duties.” Those duties have included everything from absorbing cases and on-call duties to organizing a training on human trafficking with Department of Homeland Security. During Kristiana’s work, Marine Corps Headquarters recognized Quantico FAP as leading the USMC in providing direct services to children.
So many of the people working in child abuse prevention are going above and beyond in their efforts with children, parents and families across Northern Virginia. The Allies in Prevention Awards are one small way we can celebrate and lift up the stories of those making the connections for children that are changing lives. We encourage professionals to stay connected with SCAN by joining our Allies in Prevention Coalition and using our Kids Need Connections campaign in their own communities.