Editor's note: Occasionally stories we intend to publish get "temporarily" set aside for various reasons. The people and events are too important to let these stories slip through the cracks for good. This column will attempt to catch those stories before they do. The Safety Net will appear Friday on alternating weeks with Spectrum by Editor Chuck Mason.
Tom Butterfield's spirit is alive and well at Butterfield Youth Services, as everyone knows who is familiar with the home for severely emotionally disturbed children. But Butterfield's legacy has a tangible form, too: The people who gathered around him while he was nurturing the home and its kids in the early years.
Barb Kennedy, who has work at BYS for more than 30 years now, is one of them. She is also the answer to a riddle.
What do you get for 1,740 hours of training, 3,112 trips to the grocery store, 13,920 prepared meals, 2,784 loads of laundry, training 174 staff members, mentoring six supervisors, attending 1,560 meetings, caring for 316 children, working 6,480 days?
Kennedy won a statewide award for doing all that.
Last year she won the Dwight Branson Award for Outstanding Direct Care Worker from the Missouri Coalition of Children's Agencies (MCCA) for her long dedication and caring for the children of BYS. She was selected from 18 nominees for the award, which has been given annually since 1990.
Tom Butterfield hired Kennedy.
"He would be very proud," said Ellie Butterfield at the presentation of the award to Kennedy Nov. 30 at BYS.
The presentation was necessary because Kennedy had been unable to attend the MCCA awards dinner. She had a prior obligation, and not surprisingly, it was an obligation to a child -- her grandson, whom she and her husband, John, are raising following the death of their son.
For Kennedy, it wasn't a tough decision to give the awards ceremony a miss. For her, kids come first.
"I just love kids," she said. "I've always worked with kids. It's rewarding."
Kennedy's colleague Darren Facen filled in for her at the awards ceremony, accepting the award on her behalf, and at the Nov. 30 presentation he shared the essay he wrote to nominate her for the award, "30 years of caring."
"In 1976 at the age of 26, Barbara Kennedy made a life- changing choice. Her decision to work for Butterfield Youth Services would not only change her life but the lives of the many children and staff she worked so closely with.
"Barb ... has served in the official capacity as 'Day Houseparent' but her role has always been much more ... supervisor, direct care staff, therapist, assistant supervisor, crisis intervention specialist, guidance counselor (for staff), advisor to administrators, trainer, maintenance consultant, pioneer of early program development and therapist for the therapist ... just to name a few.
"Beyond statistics, the impact of Barbara on both children and staff she has worked with cannot be determined by any particular weight or measurement or outcome projection. Her life's work, caring for others, exceeds all known standards of what we define today as unconditional caring."
Facen also included comments about Kennedy from current and former BYS residents and staff, including, "Barb was the reason I stayed at Butterfield and changed my career. She always found a way to make the impossible seem easy to accomplish."
"Barb was my second mother. I will never forget how much she cared for me and the other kids. Now that I have children of my own, I often find myself repeating things she would often say to me."
He also noted how often former residents return to visit and how often they are amazed that Kennedy still remembers them, years later.
"Courage and unwavering faith" describe her service, according to Facen.
It is refreshing to see someone like Kennedy win a big award for her work, which is otherwise pretty much behind the scenes, known only to the relatively few people in the world who work with her and receive her care.
I'm personally a bit skeptical about the value of awards, though. I'm guessing Kennedy gets the equivalent satisfaction of a statewide award every time a returning resident gives her a big hug, every time a child thanks her for her help or for preparing a good meal, every time a colleague thanks her for helping them through a trying day. I'm guessing those moments, as they have accumulated over the years, far exceed the value of MCCA's kind recognition.
The main value of the MCCA award, in fact, may simply be the excuse it gave Facen to write a tribute to her, to invite a reporter out to the ranch for a presentation, a chance to share more broadly with the community just how important she is to the people at BYS.
It gives us all a chance to say "Thank you" to someone who helps carry on Tom Butterfield's remarkable dream.
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