Upshur luncheon honors Children’s Champion

The Inter-Mountain photos by Amanda Hayes Tina Helmick presents the Upshur County Children’s Champion Award to Paula Hinzman.

BUCKHANNON — It was Christmas Eve night in Buckhannon several years ago when a CPS worker was called to a hotel in Buckhannon by law enforcement for two children who needed placement.

Their parents were being arrested and the family was from out of state, according to Tina Helmick who is now the community services manager for Lewis-Upshur-Braxton Department of Health and Human Services.

“The parents were so intoxicated they couldn’t tell anyone who the family members that could be called,” she said. “It was Christmas Eve and there I was to take someone’s children. I didn’t want to do it. I felt awful. What would they do for gifts?”

On the way to a foster home, one of the boys said, “How will Santa Claus know where to find me?”

Helmick thought to herself she had no idea, but gave the boy the answer that Santa would know where to find him.

Harvey

“I placed the children strategically, of course, with a local church foster family who immediately pulled their congregation together and the gifts and love poured in,” she said. “Guess what? Santa found that little boy and his brother. It didn’t fix for him that his mom and dad wasn’t there, but when I saw him later those toys made him one happy camper.”

Helmick said she didn’t have the best Christmas worrying about the boys and their parents.

“I wanted a different job,” she said. “I worried about being the bad part of their Christmas memories. Honestly, obviously, I still worry about what they think about that Christmas. Those things make this job real hard.”

Helmick said it was important for those in the profession to refocus their attention to what matters — the children.

“Today, we are here to stand up for children, our most vulnerable citizens,” she said. “We lose focus because sometimes the rest of society tends to beat us up a little bit for what we do. One scroll through Facebook and you are quick to find criticism about a CPS worker, a law enforcement official and other professionals for simply doing what we are here to do – stand up for children. We allow the criticisms from others about our professions to bring us down.”

When one starts to lose focus, Helmick said it is important to ask, “Did I do all that I could to stand up for children today? If that answer is truly yes, you are doing it all right.

“Over the last several months as I transitioned back to the district, I’ve watched various professionals advocate for children. It truly takes a village. I’ve watched workers go above and beyond to make sure siblings who had to be separated remain in contact. I’ve watched our team focus on goals and remember that those goals aren’t just numbers. They are people; they are kids who we now know are safe.”

Helmick said it is the CPS, youth services, school system, law enforcement, legal community, medical professionals, community groups and organizations and so many others who also stand up for children.

“Don’t focus on those cases where you feel like everything didn’t go the way that you wanted it to, but do focus on the one case where a kid simply squeezed your hand, gave you a hug, sent you a thank you note or simply smiled at you which you let you know he was OK.

“Refocus today and remember that we are simply here to stand up for our children,” she said. “The job that you do is the best job anyone could ever have – standing up for children. Allow that to be your main goal each day. We all have the same hope: for Santa Claus to find our children and for all kids to be safe. At the end of the day, if we don’t stand up for children, we don’t stand for much.”

Helmick recognized someone who has stood up for children for 27 years in the DHHR system — Paula Hinzman. Not all of her career has been in child protective services, but Hinzman has been back in that role for the last few years.

“I can’t stress to you enough about how that is often unheard of,” Helmick said as she gave Hinzman the Upshur County Children’s Champion Award.

Hinzman thanked her parents and co-workers for their support in a difficult profession.

“I’m really honored to receive this by the FRN and my colleagues,” she said. “I’ve worked with everybody in this room in one form or another. I really want to take this time to say how much I appreciate my mom and dad who have stood by me all these years and have encouraged me and wiped my tears.”

The luncheon was put on by Upshur County Family Resource Network through the Upshur County Partners in Prevention grant by TEAM WV.

UCFRN director Lori Ulderich Harvey said, “I can’t imagine what a lot of you in the trenches and on the front lines go through and I’m thankful for everything you do. It touches me a little bit more this year than it ever has.”

The FRN has focused more on foster care and adoption the last couple of years.

On Tuesday, May 7 there will be a Fostering Hope open house to learn about foster care and adoption in West Virginia at the Buckhannon Public Safety Complex Training Room from 6-8 p.m. Refreshments and children’s activities will be provided.

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