When Bonnie Jean Kuras envisioned her life, she never dreamed the impact she would have on the lives of children. Her journey to child protection has been full of unexpected twists and turns leading to incredible results.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to share in the care of my mother, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. There were many sleepless nights sitting up with her in her illness, but this led to deep conversations about her hopes and dreams for her adult children. Then she would ask us about our own hopes and dreams for our futures.
She would predict what she thought we should be doing, even if some of us were already well established in our careers. She spoke to me about leaving my beloved near-30-year career in education as a teacher, learning and language disabilities specialist, and elementary/middle school principal. She challenged me to think about pursuing other work that would impact the lives of children and families for the better in a different way. I was happy in my career, though, so the conversation felt like an exercise in dreaming.
A few months after she passed, I ended up moving to North Carolina and took a job as a Community Educator at the TEDI BEAR Children’s Advocacy Center. My coworker, Kia Glosson and I, share the responsibilities of educating our community on a variety of topics so that children can have happy, healthy childhoods. This includes facilitating Stewards of Children® trainings! TEDI BEAR has been providing Stewards of Children® since 2006, nearly as long as Stewards of Children® has existed. We belong to a variety of community-wide committees, support community events, and work with and support various agencies throughout eastern North Carolina to promote Stewards of Children®. Getting to know people, making connections, and supporting the work that others do, opens the doors to communication, develops strong relationships and enhances the trust necessary to help us have those more difficult conversations regarding child sexual abuse and child protection.
We are incredibly proud of the work that we do with our community partners because we know that when we work together, more people get touched by the work we do and more information gets shared. Over the years, our program goals have gone from a few hundred trained a year, to 1200 to 1800 people trained a year. As we are grant-supported, we set specific child protection goals and work hard to reach those target goals by reaching out to those we partner with. The successes we have had have been a result of more connections, more relationship building, more outreach, and more return customers such as College professors asking to have their classes trained, or University Dental, Medical or Nursing programs having their students trained year after year.
When the pandemic hit, we had to stop all our trainings due to safety concerns. But I knew that this couldn’t be a long-term solution, and I had been a facilitator long enough to feel comfortable reaching out to the Darkness to Light team and asking for inspiration as we sought a solution. When I heard they were creating a method for conducting live trainings in a virtual setting, I said “sign me up!” I joined the training pilot and learned to present Stewards of Children® using a virtual format. It has had a huge benefit.
Switching to virtual training hasn’t been easy for many people, but it has allowed us to train new clients and keep prior clients coming back for new trainings or meetings that we now offer. By becoming comfortable with this new technology, we’ve built stronger relationships and enabled more people to get trained. Even if they struggle with the new technology, we are there to help them through the entire process. We make sure every client knows that we value their learning so much that we will do all in our power to help them be successful. This also helps them understand just how valuable we feel Stewards of Children® is for child protection.
After nine months of virtual trainings, like most people, we began to feel tired of living our life through screens. But then we realized that–amid a pandemic–we had equipped over 1,300 adults with the tools they need to keep kids safe, all without putting anyone in jeopardy of catching the coronavirus. And then I realized that I was also accomplishing the very dreams my mother had shared with me in our cherished late-night conversations. Talk about an energy boost!
We can get this information out there. It will make an impact. People will be touched by it, and it will help to protect children. To steal the phrase from my favorite campy movie, Galaxy Quest, “Never Give Up, Never Surrender!”
We didn’t give up, and because of that, we more than met our goals!
Because of her optimism and willingness to try something different, Bonnie Jean trained more adults than any other facilitator during 2020. She is Darkness to Light’s 2021 Facilitator of the Year, an annual award given to a Facilitator who has shown incredible dedication to prevention education and child safety through training initiatives, innovation, and perseverance.
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