The story of my life is filled with love beyond measure (Measuring Cup - charm #8210). I was born in a small town in Virginia, where the dogwood (charm #1992) grew along with a little girl with big dreams. I have two parents who treated me like a princess (Tiara - charm #2418) and loved me completely, making enormous sacrifices to give me a life without pain. My mother suffered enormous physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her father in an environment that was impoverished financially and devoid of love. My mother promised herself that when she had a child that she would ensure that their worlds were filled with love. My father grew up with a father who never showed him love or approval. For two people who never experienced unconditional love, they did an amazing job of showing me that kind of love that is unselfish, kind, and empathetic (Heart - charm #6049 ).

It was that love they gave me that lead me to a career of ensuring that children, youth and families realize that someone has faith in them, hopes for them, and cares about them unconditionally (Faith, Hope, Charity - charm #0541). I became a social worker working with at-risk adolescents, involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. I have worked with hundreds of children, youth and their families over the course of my twelve years of social work in Washington, DC, the nation's capitol. I have learned that with faith, hope and concern, they can fulfill their potential. For those who did not get enough growing up, it is possible to show them a path to loving themselves and others.

At the beginning of my career, I worked as a foster care social worker, and I had the honor of assisting children to return to biological family, adoptive families, and independence from the system. For three years, I was blessed by working with adolescents affected and infected with HIV/AIDS (AIDS ribbon - charm #6426). These youth taught me the importance of living life to its fullest as well as how to have grace in the face of pain. It was a spiritual opportunity to be there to assist them with living as well as assist them as they passed on. I went on to work with foster care children and families again as a supervisor, and now, I am the Director of an independent living program designed for youth emancipating from the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. I have the amazing opportunity along with my staff to assist these youth in developing skills that will allow them to be healthy, stable, financially independent adults.

Whenever, I have thought of my career as a social worker, the poem regarding starfish (charm #0533) comes to mind. Once upon a time there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore. As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. So he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?" The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish in the ocean." "I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?" "The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don't throw them in they'll die." "But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!" The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said- "It made a difference for that one." I have learned that whatever act small or big makes a difference in the lives of the children, youth and families that I have worked with over the years. I may never know the difference that I have made or meet their faces again, but I know in my heart the difference they have made in my life. I can only hope that they experience the difference as I have.

Through my work experiences, I had the life changing opportunity to meet five amazing children in one family. I met Evan and Azalia in my first job as a social worker. Their story and their presence made such an impact on me that when I had the opportunity to be their social worker, despite my overwhelming caseload; I volunteered to be their social worker. They were 10 and 12. Siblings whose father was trying to reunify with them and their mother was deceased. I would not know when I met them years ago that I would still be in their lives. After being their social worker and reunifying them with their father, I went on to another agency to work, asking their father for permission to continue to mentor them. Well, mentoring turned into family. Their father later had three more children, and he asked me to be their godmother and legal guardian if he should pass away. I eagerly accepted the role as their godmother (charm #3207), and it has developed into more of a mother role since their biological mothers are unavailable. I am pleased to say that I am the mother of five amazing children. They have taught me that love overcomes race, culture, and geography. Evan is now 23, and a firefighter in DC. Azalia is 20, and mother herself, attending phlebotomy school. Danielle is 8, and a proud 2nd grader at a private school that I have funded. Sean is 7, and eager 1st grader at the same school. Finally, baby Lorraine is 1, and attending a bilingual school where she grows leaps and bounds daily. Becoming their godmother was the most amazing, life changing experience that has filled my life with love beyond measure.

My parents taught me with love and a little faith that I could do anything. My work has taught me that love and faith are the most valuable gifts you can give. Most importantly, I have realized that my life has been charmed beyond measure as a result of love and faith. As Matthew 17:19-20 in the Holy Bible quotes Jesus, “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (charm #3023), you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you." I have learned this first hand. Nothing is impossible.

Roberta Rinker Toms Brook, VA January 2010

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