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Recognizing non-traditional moms on Mother's Day

As Mother’s Day approaches, One Hope United recognizes the many women who nurture vulnerable children whose mothers are unable to care for them. These women step in as a mother figure in many at-risk and foster children’s lives, giving them the support they need to strive toward a successful adulthood.

Carol Dunahee, a youth care worker and kitchen supervisor at One Hope United’s Centralia Residential campus, is one of these women.

Known as “Mama Carol” to the youth who live there as well as the staff, she does everything from preparing healthy family-style meals and baking birthday cakes to sewing on buttons or answering questions about puberty.

“Mama Carol is like a grandma to me,” said Sarah, a 17-year-old girl who lives on the campus and helps Dunahee in the kitchen.

Carol Dunahee, youth care worker and kitchen supervisor at One Hope United's residential campus in Centralia, Ill., nurtures youth with family-style meals and a listening ear.

The Centralia facility houses up to 32 youth between 12 and 18 years old. They all have behavioral and/or mental disorders, making it difficult for them to live with a foster family. Most of these youth come from homes where they have been abused or neglected. They receive treatment at the campus, where they stay an average of 10 months.

Having someone like “Mama Carol” to rely on is invaluable to these youth.

”She puts the kids needs first,” said Melissa Webster, the facility’s director of programs.  “It’s a blessing to have someone like her here.”

“The kids here have been through a lot of trauma, but they will talk to Carol,” said Stephanie Bowdler, residential coordinator at the Centralia campus. “They come to her with questions that seem embarrassing to ask. She won’t judge them. It makes all the difference in the world to these kids.”

A supportive adult is key in a child’s ability to live up to their potential. Having someone listen to and answer their questions aids children’s social and emotional competence, Webster said.

Dunahee, 59, offers the children a mixture of tough love and sweetness to teach them how to handle rules and themselves.

“Carol is as tough as they come, but there is always an undercurrent of care and love in what she does,” Webster said.

Her candor and openness with the kids also gives them someone they can trust.

“They’ve had a lot of stories and lies told to them, and we tell them the truth,” said Dunahee, who has worked at the Centralia campus for seven years. “I get a lot of respect, and I’m open to discuss any topic they want calmly and openly.”

“The people who work here really care about these kids. It’s like a family,” she added.

One Hope United is working to strengthen and support families to reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.

On Mother’s Day and throughout the year, it is important to focus attention on prevention efforts that support parents and create healthier communities for children.