At an annual meeting on November 12, The Children’s Home Society (CHS)- located at 1422 Kanawha Boulevard, East in Charleston- named Marilyn Pearce, Regional Director, and Julia Kesler, Director of Permanency Services, the recipients of the third annual Nancy Stuart Tonkin Award.
The award, named after former CHS employee Nancy Stuart Tonkin, was created following Tonkin’s death and is given to those who exemplify advocacy in their work as she did.
Tonkin was successful in her roles at Children’s Home Society and used her research to improve casework protocols. She lobbied for CHS and other child welfare agencies and was successful in improving foster care payments, which allowed the agency to significantly expand its foster care program. Her work linked CHS to other organizations, which resulted in millions of dollars of programming support.
During her career, she acted as a Board Member, Board Chairperson, and Board Member Emeritus.
“She was tireless in communicating the mission of CHS to the community and interpreting the community’s reactions,” the Children’s Home Society wrote.
“Nancy was an effective recruiter of board members, supporters and volunteers. She was a trusted and effective advisor to the Children’s Home Society in all public policy matters. She was a strong advocate for permanency, child well-being and family support services.”
Because of Tonkin’s extraordinary example, the award, which was first presented in 2018, is highly respected among CHS employees.
The award’s nominees are chosen by both CHS employees and community members, according to Kesler who, upon receiving the award, said she was surprised that she had been chosen.
“We just want to do what is in the best interest for our kids. I don’t do it for the awards but it’s nice that folks said thank you in this way,” the employee of nearly 28 years stated.
“It is very humbling. Doing what we do isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. I could never achieve what Nancy achieved in her career but it’s an extreme honor to be considered in the same category as her.”
Like Kelser, Pearce also showed gratitude for the award.
“I did not have the privilege of meeting Nancy, but from what I’ve heard she was absolutely remarkable and fought tirelessly for kids and families. Even to be nominated was an honor.”
Pearce has worked with CHS for over a decade and has acted as Regional Director for the last year.
According to the Children’s House Society, Kesler and Pearce received this year’s award for their constant work ensuring that House Bill 4092 was passed.
The pair spent days, nights and weekends working on House Bill 4092, which paved the way for increased funding for foster care.
According to Kesler, the bill sent $16.9 million in funds to the Department of Health and Human Resources to aid child welfare and focus on children in foster care by providing them better services.
“Our involvement started with the need for funding so we would have the ability to increase resources and recruit more families,” Pearce said.
As a child-placing agency, CHS is responsible for recruiting, training and certifying foster parents.
“The state is in desperate need for more families and to do that we needed more resources and more funding. This had not been addressed and it was a key piece that needed to be addressed.”
“We spent a lot of time at capitol educating legislators. We spent hours down there tracking them down and explaining what was needed for additional support,” Kesler added.
Aside from creating the necessary funding, House Bill also sets priorities on how those funds need to be set, such as increased rates for paying foster families and the ability to increase and implement services that keep children from being placed in a higher level of care than necessary.
“This wasn’t just because of the work of one person or two people,” Pearce said. “It really was a team; we had an army behind us. Nothing would be possible without the support of everyone included.”
House Bill 4092 was proposed in November and was passed in March on the last day of the West Virginia Legislature’s 2020 session.