IRONWOOD — The Gogebic County Children’s Trust Fund commended local high school students and community members for being role models at an annual awards banquet Wednesday at Gogebic Community College.
Four students from the Gogebic County school districts were honored for their efforts.
“All four of these students have not only applied themselves in the classroom, but have gone above and beyond for their communities,” CTF chair Kitti Colassaco said. “These are young people who have helped others and are positive role models in the schools and community.”
Makenzie Long, of A.D. Johnston High School in Bessemer; Jacob Pikka, of Wakefield-Marenisco High School; Katarina Richards, Luther L. Wright School in Ironwood, and Travis Williams, of Watersmeet High School, received Community Role Model Awards.
The awards started in 2001, and since then, 52 students have received the awards as exceptional role models.
CTF recognized Barb Siira, of the Special Olympics, as the Volunteer of the Year.
“Barb is instrumental and very dedicated to the Special Olympics,” CTF member Marie Kangas said. “She has devoted over 40 years to this important endeavor. She has raised over $800,000 for Special Olympics in Michigan. Barb is truly special.”
Kangas said Siira exemplifies “passion and conviction” and is someone who has “certainly made a difference to area families.”
“I love the athletes and love being around them,” Siira said. “They give me courage. I am pleased to see our program grow from 36 participants to 114 athletes.”
CTF also honored Aspirus Grand View for its support of the organization and local children through medical services, including Welcome Newborn bags for mothers.
Adrienne Chase and Danielle Grayson, both in social services at AGVH, accepted the award.
“We are both new to CTF, but there are years of experience and years of people behind the work that they do,” Chase said. “We are very proud to serve and its an honor to be on the council.”
Being an abused child
Big Family of Michigan’s Jeanne Fowler spoke to CTF about her experiences as a child. She is author of “Peter’s Lullaby,” which details the story about her mother abusing her, her sister and her brother until her brother’s death at 3.
“Mother used to say, ‘I wouldn’t beat you if I didn’t love you so much,’” Fowler said.
Her mother tied her and her brother up by their hands while living in Chicago and they would receive daily beatings. Fowler’s brother would hum to help himself to fall asleep.
“What he didn’t realize is that the girl across the kitchen was listening, and that he was also lulling her to sleep and making the pain go away,” Fowler said. “What an incredible gift to have, the chance to sleep and make the pain stop.”
After one particular beating, Fowler didn’t hear her brother’s song.
“The little girl waited for the song, and it didn’t come,” Fowler said. “With his last breath, his death brought one last gift, the police came and I was able to live.”
Despite her beatings, Fowler was able to find love, because of a special foster parent.
“Her name was Aunt Bee, and she gave the little girl two incredible gifts,” Fowler said. “The first gift was giving love without violence. The second was just allowing her to be a 3-year-old, and just to be a kid. Without Aunt Bee, how I would have loved my children? Foster parents are important. We need more foster parents who want to be Aunt Bee.”
Because of her experience, Fowler started Big Family of Michigan and has supplied school supplies, clothing, toys and scholarships for kids across the state.
Her organization also supplies birthday parties, chances to see sporting events and supplied 10,000 kids with Christmas gifts last year.
CTF is hosting presentations with Fowler today from 6-8 p.m. and on Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. Both events are free and take place at the Lindquist Center at GCC. Today’s event is open to the community and Friday is geared toward professionals working with children.
For more information on the Children’s Trust Fund, call the Department of Human Services at 906-663-6200. To learn more about Fowler or Big Family of Michigan, visit bigfamilyofmichigan.org.