April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. As a SPED (Special Education) teacher and mother of two children adopted from foster care I'm highlighting Jeanell Climer as one of Lucy's Ladies of the Season!
Jeanell Climer has been near and dear to me for years. We met because of our work with children and in many ways children have kept us connected through the years. Not just our own children, but school children and children in foster care. Jeanell is all about the children (I like to describe her as a Mama Duck, she just watches over the children like a sweet mama duck!) so there's no better person to interview this season and this month. Her faithfulness to the Lord and kids in special need is so inspirational and admirable. Jeanell truly makes the world a better place and daily helps to keep kids safe! Without further ado, I give you an interview with a child advocacy queen:
When did you first know you wanted to work with/advocate for kids?
I don’t feel like there was ever an “aha moment” but rather I often found myself talking to or helping the underdog. I do recall being a secretary at a high school and often having conversations with a young lady about all kinds of things. She was struggling with things at home and she often shared things with me when she stopped by to say hello. As the year progressed, her visits increased. At one point, she noticed a special cross necklace that I had on. It opened the door for us to talk about church, and she asked a lot of great questions. I was always very careful talking about my faith in a public school, but the memory of those conversations have stayed with me 18 years later.
What made you hone your focus onto SPED?
There are two things that come to mind. The first is the first high school I worked at, we had a sunshine group that would celebrate birthdays and other special events. A teacher thought the life skills class students might want to share in the celebrations. A conversation happened, and I was the lucky one chosen to work with the students, and their teacher, to have them participate in celebrating birthdays. The second thing that made me consider SPED is a former neighbor. Her son, who happens to be six months younger than my oldest daughter, is on the spectrum and her stories always made me smile. (Our house was called the three girl house because he knew we had three daughters, and he was FASCINATED that the garbage truck came every week to take the “stinky trash” away - he would watch them come down the street and giggle as they picked up at each of the 20 houses.)
What sorts of advocacy for children have you participated in throughout your life and career?
I was part of the iFrosh team at Wenatchee High School, which gave me some great conversations with kids and parents. I had the privilege of being part of JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) when I worked at Wenatchee Valley Technical Skills Center. My husband and I helped with the Special Olympics ski team for a few years. I was the “lodge mom” so I helped the head coach with paperwork, and kept attendance for each practice. I was a volunteer with Girls on the Run for two different seasons. The first year I was a running buddy for a student in Chelan. I was able to run a 5k with her. The second time I volunteered, I was one of three coaches at Sterling.
How did you find yourself the mother of two special needs girlie girls adopted from foster care?
This was totally a God thing! The girls were students of mine during the 2019-20 school year. I tell the story that on the first day of school, I came home and told my husband that I have new students – twins – and there is something special about them. Little did I know how special they would be! As a teacher, I want my students to know that I am a safe person and they can tell me anything without judgment. I want to help them find solutions to things that might be a challenge. The girls each shared things they were struggling with. Based upon the things they were telling me, I ended up having to contact their DCYF Case Worker to report things. During these conversations, there was a hint on both our ends regarding the possibility of my husband and I becoming foster parents. My husband was not on board. I also knew that if we were to do this, we had to commit to the long-haul as these girls had been in multiple foster homes in a short period of time. There was a big incident in January 2020 that resulted in my husband deciding he could commit to bringing the girls into our home with the goal of adopting or being their foster parents until they aged out. We started the process at the end of January and then the Covid shut-down happened, which delayed things. We received a call on April 16, 2020 that the girls needed to be moved that day, and asked if we were ready for them. We were, and the rest is history. Due to their disabilities and all of the changes happening (we were their seventh placement), the girls needed extra time to process all the things. The state wanted us to begin the adoption process after six months, but the girls were not ready. We officially adopted the girls in November 2021.
What is life like now?
Life now is interesting. Texas has been something we have talked about off and on for many years. My father-in-law was born in Texas. We talked over the years of moving to Texas, but the doors were never opened for us. There was always a big obstacle that blocked the idea from moving forward. In mid to late September 2021, a friend of mine randomly called me and asked if we were still thinking about Texas. I told her it would probably always be something we would dream about, but that was it. She suggested we consider it. I laughed and told her I would pray about it, because that would be a BIG move. Random (more like God winks) conversations started happening that all tied back to Texas. In early October, we started looking at the possibility of relocating to Texas when the school year finished. By the end of October, we decided we should probably go visit Texas to make sure this was something that could work for us. We decided to spend Thanksgiving week in Texas. During the month of November, God laid it on our hearts that we should move before the school year ended. As a teacher, I was freaking out. We trusted that He had a better plan than we did, so I started to apply for positions. We made plans to visit five different areas, but when the trip actually happened, God had other plans. We only went to one area - Bryan/College Station which is near Texas A&M University. We came back to Washington with a house offer in the works and I had three virtual job interviews scheduled that week. I accepted a job offer one week after we returned from Texas, we put our house on the market, and we moved 2,100 miles away from all our friends and family to an adventure in Texas six weeks later in early January 2022.
We adopted the girls in November 2021, the week before we visited Texas. They are juniors in high school. I am currently working as a special education teacher in College Station ISD, but I will be moving to a smaller district next school year, which I am really excited about. I will be moving to a self-contained classroom, which is very much like my first two years of teaching. Remember that friend who randomly asked me if I wanted to move to Texas? Her family bought a house in the same neighborhood we live in. She works in the same small district I will be working in next year. God had a much bigger and better plan than I could have ever dreamt.
What inspiration/encouragement do you have for others who may be interested in advocating for abused and neglected children?
When I reflect on this question, I think it is important for people to know that you need to do what is comfortable for you. There are a lot of programs that are seeking volunteers to help abused and neglected children. For all kids (and people), knowing that someone is in their corner is a HUGE thing. With my adopted daughters, they knew when they came to school every day that my classroom was a safe place, and a place where they could tell an adult anything. I tell my students all the time, you are safe at school and you can tell me anything and I will still love you. They all know there are some things they share with me that I have to share with others to keep them safe. For some kids, it is knowing that someone is going to show up at school to eat lunch with them. I would say if you feel like you want to volunteer in this area, make some phone calls and find the place that fits you best. Big Sisters/Big Brothers is a great option in bigger cities. Many schools have a Lunch Buddy program. The CASA Program is another amazing opportunity to show up and show love and kindness to kids in need.
Last book read:
The Maid by Nita Prose
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron
His & Hers by Alice Feeney
The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
In addition to ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) training, four books that have helped me as a teacher, and now as a mom of twin girls on the spectrum, are:
Population: One by Tyler McNamer
Lost At School by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D.
Eyes Are Never Quiet by Lori L. Desautels, Ph.D. and Michael McKnight, M.A.
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