The tight-knit team of unwavering champions at the UMFS Tidewater Regional Center would do just about anything to help one another and their community. By nature, they’re a kind and caring bunch. By practice, they’re incredibly well established.
“We have four social workers on our team who’ve been here for at least 16 years,” said Tidewater Regional Director Jewel Cooper.
Adoption Care Coordinator Vineta Watson leads the veteran group of Social Workers with 18 years of service, followed by Senior Family Support Specialist Tracey Morris and Independent Living Consultant Melissa Lee (17 years each) and Community Based Services Supervisor Mary Davies (16). All are pictured in the lead photo.
But it’s not only the social workers in Tidewater who’ve made an incredible commitment, Jewel said. Administrative Assistant Cynthia Robinson has been there 16 years, and Administrative Services Manager Sandra Farmer has been there 15 years.
“We really do think of ourselves as a family,” said Jewel, who also is a social worker and who also has been with the Tidewater team for an extended time — 29 years, to be exact. “I stay because of the work we do and my relationships with my teammates,” she said with a smile.
For those keeping score, Jewel and the other social workers in Tidewater have 97 years of combined experience. Add Sandra and Cynthia’s dedication, and you’re looking at well over 100 years of service to children, teens, and families. But the incredible tenure doesn’t end there. UMFS Chief Program Officer Adalay Wilson has been with UMFS for 33 years. She got her start at the Tidewater office and hired Jewel, Mary, Melissa, Tracey, and Vineta all those years ago.
“I wish I could say I had the foresight to know this dynamic core team would be successfully intact almost two decades later,” Adalay said. “I vividly recall that in each of their interviews, their passion for working with children and families was palpable, and each of them was attracted to UMFS because the values and mission aligned with their personal beliefs and desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
The team in Tidewater has indeed become part of something bigger. As individuals, they each have made remarkable contributions through the years. And collectively, what they’ve done for the organization and the community is nearly impossible to measure, Adalay said.
“The impact of life-long connections is, in a word — Priceless!” Adalay said. “Families and referral sources alike have shared their appreciation of the expertise, competency, stability, and historical safety-net the team in Tidewater has provided as they navigate the adoption and foster care journey.”
Jewel said she couldn’t be prouder of her team for forging authentic and long-lasting relationships among themselves and with the families they serve. “We’ve had a few families who’ve been with us for years and years,” Jewel said. “They know us, and they know if they can’t reach one of us, they can reach another. The community knows we are seasoned, and referral sources really trust us.”
The importance of trust-based relationships is something that cannot be overstated, Adalay said, especially when it comes to family finding or family building. Adalay cited “foundational trust” as the secret to the team’s success, adding, “It’s something they’ve developed over time as they’ve weathered the highs and lows that accompany serving at-risk families.”
“They have a shared sense of mission,” Adalay continued. “They truly value connectedness, invest in relationship-building, and they celebrate personal and professional accomplishments.”
That’s high praise from one veteran human services professional to a group of others. And it’s praise Jewel said her team is very well-deserving of. “Our team is just so valuable to the community,” she said. “And they’re also valuable to me.”