Honoring Abbott House's 'life changers'
In the face of adversity, a support system can change a young girl's life.
Those people credited with being "life changers" and "role models" for Mitchell-area children in need were honored and celebrated Tuesday afternoon at Mitchell Wesleyan Church during the annual Abbott House Education and Appreciation Celebration.
Tona Rozum and Lou Ora Houk have a combined 75 years of experience contributing to the Abbott House and its residents, together improving the lives of hundreds who fell on hard times.
"They come from a long list of nominations, and they're very humble people who don't want awards because they don't think they deserve anything for what they do," said Tim Smith, Abbott House Board of Directors president. "But both of these women do deserve this."
Both Rozum and Houk were named Children's Champion Award winners, the highest honors awarded during the program.
Houk, a White Lake native, was lauded for her decades of work that began when she was a Dakota Wesleyan University student in 1946. Houk and quilters from a local church have made hundreds of blankets to donate to Abbott House children. The blankets are the first items the children receive when they arrive at the organization.
The Abbott House provides treatment for young girls who have faced trauma and abuse, and the blankets are often the first items made specifically for the child and make them feel safe in what can otherwise be a scary situation, Abbott House staff said.
But to Houk, what she has done for the organization is simply what she feels she was meant to do.
"I think of all the things I've done, the best has been to help others for so many years," Houk said to a crowd of about 200 people. "So many lives have been more than just touched and tragedies prevented because of what (Abbott House staff) has all done."
Rozum began serving on the Abbott House Board of Directors in 1972, helping the organization through "organizational refocusing efforts," the expansion of psychiatric residential treatment programs and more. It was the first community board she served on, she said.
In 2015, Rozum donated two Harley Davidson motorcycles she had won to the Abbott House, where they were raffled a second time and raised $10,000 for children at the Abbott House.
"I don't deserve this award, because without the things we have quietly going on, there wouldn't be the success that there is," Rozum said.
Also recognized during Tuesday's event was Linda Christensen, who has been a full-time Abbott House employee for 25 years, working as a night staffer and a night youth supervisor.
Christensen is known for filling in wherever needed at the Abbott House and spends sometimes long, stressful nights with the girls.
"She's there in the evening when sometimes it's hard for kids to stay asleep because they're in a strange place, and so her first priority is the children and then she takes on all of these other titles, too," said Abbott House Director of Development Virginia Wishard-Lambert.
Additionally, the Mitchell High School volleyball team was on hand for recognition for its "hands-on work" to teach children at the Abbott House volleyball skills. The skills camp was set to run for six weeks, but the volleyball team continued to spend time with the girls in the Abbott House, and invited the girls to a home game as "honorary guests."
"One of our girls shared in a thank-you note, 'You not only taught me new skills, but boosted my self esteem.' And I think when you walked into that room you could feel it was way more than making high school students come and volunteer at the Abbott House," Wishard-Lambert said. "It was really about friendship and the fact that we are the same type of kids."