I love attending our agency’s Annual Meeting. It’s that unique time of year when staff, community, Board members, and friends, all come together to acknowledge the prior year’s work and celebrate the agency’s accomplishments and staff longevity. It is also a time we celebrate “an individual or organization that has provided extraordinary support or assistance toward improving the futures of the state’s most vulnerable children” by bestowing on them the Michelle Norris Award.
In May of 1988, Michelle, a 7 year–old first grader in Central Falls, disappeared. Four days later, officials discovered her bruised body on a debris–covered hill in a desolate wooded area less than a half mile from her school. Children’s Friend created and named this award to honor her memory and acknowledge the preciousness and potential of all children.
Last year’s Award recipient – a long–time champion for children in RI, Dr. Fran Gallo – encouraged us with a call to action: To respond to the needs of our state’s most vulnerable children with intention, courage and compassion. I noted those three words on a small slip of paper and have had it on my desk for the last year– trying my best to keep them in mind as I went about my work each day.
This year’s Award recipient needed no call to action, he lived and breathed it every day; well beyond his retirement from our state’s child welfare agency after over 30 years of leadership and service. Tom Dwyer was honored last Thursday, posthumously, at our 182nd Annual Meeting. Several people shared their memories of Tom as a person who not only acknowledged how precious every child is, he actively worked to“build up the best in the adults he worked with, so we could do and be our best for the children who most need us.”
Throughout my career I’ve attended many annual meetings for a variety of organizations. Children’s Friend though, has been different. Different because of the purpose of the Michelle Norris Award; different because of our commitment to the most vulnerable children in our state; different because of the number of dedicated staff who continue to serve those vulnerable children; and, different because of the passion for our work every day beyond our Annual Meeting.