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PRESENTATION – Michele Santin, left, director of the Jefferson County Department of Employment and Family Services, was presented with the 2022 Helen Carrocci Child Advocate Award by Amy Lingerfelt, director of the A Caring Place Child Advocacy Center. — Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE – Michele Santin from Toronto has always wanted to be a social worker.

“God has always planted a seed in me to take care of children”, the director of the Jefferson County Department of Employment and Family Services explained in the moments before receiving the Helen Carrocci Child Advocate Award for 2022, a validation of her career choice.

The honor came July 12 at his workplace and was presented by Amy Lingerfelt, director of A Caring Place Child Advocacy Center in Wintersville. Established in 2002, A Caring Place provides a safe, comfortable, private and child-friendly environment for victims of child abuse and their families with the goal of minimizing the trauma of child abuse while providing an effective way to collect information needed to successfully prosecute offenders. .

The award has been given annually since 2011 in memory of Carrocci, who was a longtime advocate for children, co-founder of A Caring Place and its first chairman of the board.

It is awarded to a local individual or organization who has exemplified excellence in service to children in the community or who have contributed to the development and success of A Caring Place or the Jefferson County Multidisciplinary Team.

The fact that the award was in Carrocci’s honor made it all the more meaningful for Santin, who said she knew and worked with Carrocci.

“She was a member of the Children’s Services Board when I was a social worker and supervisor, and then she was also chair of the board, and to a very large extent she was hugely supportive of us as workers. She was very kind, very caring towards us, but most of all, what I remember of Helen is her compassion and her tenacity in working on behalf of children,” Santin said at the informal awards ceremony which included kind words and expressions of appreciation, cake and an audience of peers, colleagues and other officials.

Among them were Jefferson County Commissioner Tony Morelli; Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services Directors Association; and Matt Kendall, JCDJFS Deputy Director and Human Resources Administrator.

There was also Russ Curry, who nominated Santin for the award. Curry, whose social work career spanned more than 50 years, served as acting director of A Caring Place before Lingerfelt’s appointment and was instrumental in its creation more than 20 years ago. At one time he served as director of social services and then executive director of the Jefferson County Children Services Board, what is today known as the Jefferson County Department of Job and Family Services, Children Services Division, before overseeing the Family Services Association and then working with Coleman Health Services.

Curry said Santin had dedicated her entire life to serving the children of Jefferson County and described her as “a humble servant” someone who embodies the mission of A Caring Place through their dedication to children and families over the years.

“I remember first meeting Michele when I came to work here in 1991, and she was already an adoption worker with Children’s Services and used to work as an adoption worker for the Diocese of Steubenville,” Curry said, noting that he has seen her progress in earning her master’s degree.

“One of the things I see, in terms of Michele’s characteristics, is that she is a humble servant. And I mean, in the sense that she’s willing to do whatever needs to be done. She’s not interested in being in the spotlight, but she sees a problem and she begins to address it. said Curry.

In his letter of appointment, Curry noted that Santin coordinates an annual conference on promoting healthy attachments, awareness that has enabled development and success among Jefferson County’s multidisciplinary team and A Caring Place staff. as well as for professionals in a four-state region. . The training helps foster parents, adoptive parents and professionals.

“It was her determination to do the right thing for the children because of her experience as an adoption worker, both in the diocese and in children’s services, and so she saw what posed a problem. She didn’t come out saying, ‘Let’s make a big deal out of this,’ she said, ‘Let’s do something that’s going to help people. said Curry.

“I am humbled and humbled to receive this award, especially since it is in memory of Helen Carrocci,” said Santin, who grew up in Steubenville, graduated from Catholic Central High School, class of 1975, received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Dominican University of Ohio in Columbus and her master’s degree in counseling from Franciscan University of Steubenville.

She began her career as a social worker at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Steubenville, in 1981, providing social work services to adoptive families.

“Michele started at the Jefferson County Children Services Board in 1989 as a social worker, and years later was promoted to placement unit supervisor,” Curry wrote in his appointment letter. “In February 2007, she left Children’s Services and returned to the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville and remained there until January 2020, when she returned to Children’s Services as Administrator of the program, then was named Acting Director in 2020.” Santin was promoted to her current position as Director in August 2020. She has served on the Diocese of Steubenville Child Protection Council since 2020.

Santin explained his passion for his work.

“God has always planted a seed in me to take care of children. I always wanted to be a social worker. I actually wanted to be in the Peace Corps when I was in elementary school. It has always been in my heart. God has always planted this seed in my heart since elementary school to be a social worker,” she says.

“God blessed me immensely, more than I could have ever imagined. I was happy to be a social worker. I never had any aspirations, beyond being a social worker, which was great, and then I always say you have to have someone who believes in you more than you believe in yourself, and for me that was Russ,” she said, adding that Curry was still “very encouraging, very inspiring.”

Mentors, colleagues, administrators, supervisors and front-line workers have been blessings throughout her career, according to Santin, who said she was “very happy” receive recognition “for something I love to do and have always wanted to do.”

“I can say that the best part of the job for me has always been working with children and families,” Santin said, noting how the field of neuroscience has changed dramatically over the past 40 years to help families and children heal – “the best part of the job.”

Before presenting the award, Lingerfelt offered an idea of ​​who Carrocci was.

“Helen began her activist career as a Girl Scout leader in 1957. She worked as a juvenile sheriff’s officer investigating cases of child abuse, among other duties. She served as a facilitator for the Jefferson County Multidisciplinary Child Sexual Abuse Team. She was a member of the Jefferson County Children’s Services Board of Directors and was a driving force in the establishment of A Caring Place Children’s Advocacy Center. Lingerfelt said, noting that Carrocci was the center’s first president.

Lingerfelt explained that nominations for the award are accepted from individuals in the county, “Especially the Jefferson County multidisciplinary team, the A Caring Place board members, and anyone who works with children in the area.”

“Nominations are accepted from individuals who have demonstrated an unending commitment or mission to the welfare of the children of Jefferson County, and from someone who has just made a great contribution to the ‘Improving the Lives of Jefferson County Children’, Lingerfelt added.

“Michelle has done this throughout her career,” she said before presenting the award, which is normally given out when A Caring Place holds its annual fundraising event in April, Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“But this year, due to public health concerns, we decided to wait for the third year in a row, and we just introduced him to Michele,” Lingerfelt said fundraisers weren’t held because of COVID-19.

“Receiving this award was humbling and it really means a lot to me,” Santin said.

“God has blessed me tremendously since beginning my career at the Diocese of Steubenville and continues to do so at the Jefferson County Department of Employment and Family Services.

“God has blessed me immensely to be able to do this.”

(Kiaski can be contacted at [email protected])

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