2016-05-19 / Around Town

Reaching Our Dreams

By Betsy Sherman Walker

When Kim Fuller became a volunteer “adopt-a-home mom” at one of the many group homes run by Child & Family in 2006, there were two things of which she was certain. “I thought I’d be a mentor for girls,” she told a gathering of women on Thursday, May 12, at Child & Family’s Ellen Townsend Women’s Luncheon. The event was one of many the social services organization has planned for the year-long celebration of its 150 years as a presence on Aquidneck Island. With a 14-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter, Fuller added, “I had no intention of adopting a child.”

As one of the speakers at the luncheon, Fuller was there to read from her book, “Finding,” about her experiences with her adopted son, Keydell.

Fuller, a professional photographer based in Newport, read her account of the first time she saw Keydell, a little boy “searching for a home.” The connection, she said, was immediate. “I saw this young boy squirming on the grass,” she said. "I fell instantly in love.”

Kim Fuller and Stieg Lindebald share their stories of how Child & Family changed their lives. Kim Fuller and Stieg Lindebald share their stories of how Child & Family changed their lives. In 1867, Ellen Townsend suggested to her brother, Christopher Townsend, that the family home on Church Street be donated and established as the Home for Friendless Children. Now in its 150th year, Child & Family has been honoring Townsend’s vision with a year-long string of events designed to highlight its many successes, thank its many supporters, and reinforce its mission.

It is the legacy of Ellen Townsend and her vision that continues to resonate in stories such as Fuller’s. According to Child & Family Director of Development and Marketing Holly Damm, the theme of the luncheon was to honor not only Townsend, “but to recognize and celebrate the women in our community who support and have supported Child & Family and the programs and services we provide.”

Stieg Lindeblad, in many ways, could have fit the profile of one of Townsend’s kids. Having just completed his freshman year at URI, he was introduced by President and CEO Marty Sinnott—who admiringly called him “an intellectual hipster.” Lindeblad spoke of his experiences living in one of Child & Family’s group homes. “We were a sort of brotherhood,” he said, “a dysfunctional family, but in a good way.” Lindeblad thanked the people who worked with him, “pushing me to do better. They all wanted to help us reach our dreams.”

Other 150th anniversary highlights have included a statewide conference, “Addressing the Needs of Youth in Rhode Island,” on May 6 in Providence, where Child & Family gathered together a swath of educators, legislators and social service professionals to continue the dialogue. Future events will focus on the families served by Child & Family, and on celebrating the vast network of donors and supporters that sustain its mission. On July 16, there will be a Community Family Day Celebration at Queen Anne Square. The150th anniversary gala is scheduled for Aug. 6, and the 33rd annual Taste of Newport will be on Oct. 30.

It was the sight of “the many children she saw begging in the streets” that moved Ellen Townsend in the 1860s. Today, her embrace has been expanded to include the challenges experienced by families and senior citizens. Sinnott, offering thanks and perspective, spoke about both the challenges and the rewards of their mission to support, sustain, and strengthen the families they serve.

“Everyone says it’s not rocket science,” he said, but then added: “It’s a lot harder.”

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