Tuesday, March 05, 2002

PULFER: Su's kids

You, too, can be their hero

By Laura Pulfer, lpulfer@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The old red brick building is supposedly a day care center. But Su Sanders worries about these children day and night.

        She points to a beautiful little boy with blond, curly hair. “He's going deaf and blind,” she says. Kids at St. Paul's Child Care Center in Newport have a laundry list of difficulties. Poverty is simply the most obvious. One little girl presses her face to a violin. This child, too, is losing her hearing. Another child, badly neglected, took her first step at St. Paul's at the age of 19 months. Su has a photo.

        Poor prenatal care, custody battles, drug-addicted mothers, abuse — it is the rule, rather than the exception at St. Paul's. A fourth of the children are in protective custody, with all that implies. Su has an indelible memory of a child returning to the center after being interrogated by authorities about sexual abuse by a relative.


Understandable rage

               “He threw a chair. He slapped my face. He was just so angry. And who can blame him?” Well, not Su. Her department is getting that kid ready for school. “Breaking the cycle,” she says. “I want to give them the chance not to become their parents.”

        In charge of 53 little souls, ages 6 weeks to 6 years, St. Paul's director starts with a prayer in the parking lot. Then she takes a deep breath and tackles the day. Which might include bathing a sick baby or finding another one sucking a bottle filled with Mountain Dew. “I'll talk to the mom. Maybe nobody ever told her this is bad for babies,” Su says. “She may be a child herself.” More than three-quarters of the parents are single mothers. About a fifth are teen-agers, some as young as 14.

        A “grocery store” next to her office is open to parents. Free. No begging needed. Dignity is another thing Su dispenses at every opportunity. Along with more pedestrian needs, such as cereal and canned goods and baby clothes and toothpaste. But the mission is education. With a degree in early childhood development and Montessori training, Su is determined to “make connections in all those little neurons. To give them a chance in life.”


Relentless recruiter

               She presses relentlessly to fill the gaping maw of need. Besides cobbling together various grants and donations, she reaches out to grab people. Students from Thomas More College volunteer. “They are my heroes,” she says.

        You, too, could be a hero. Money? That'd be nice, of course. But how about your time? Can you read? Would you like to hold a seriously cute baby? Change a seriously messy diaper? How about music? Can you play an instrument? No? Well, can you sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star? Good. You're in. Call Su at (859) 581-3390.

        Maybe the thing you absolutely don't have is time. In fact, you just now finished your spring cleaning. Did you wind up with stuff that is too good to throw away? Clothes? Toys? Food? You can drop things off at 7 Court Place in Newport. (Look for St. Paul's Episcopal Church steeple at Court near York Street.)

        Su is a tiny woman. The top of her dark, curly head comes about to my shoulder. She needs to stand on a ladder to change a light bulb or tinker with a broken door bell. Which she has done, plenty of times. And she has hiked up her long, tailored skirt to kneel on the bare floors to scrub them.

        Anything, she says, she'll do anything for these children.

        And everything is what they need.

       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.


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